THE BEGINNING OF THE END

Dear Reader,

I know: what a morbid thing to title my first blog post after a ten month hiatus. But it’s really not that serious.

Starting this blog four years ago was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It forced me to write and share and allowed me to connect with others. Most importantly, it gave me a place to collect my thoughts as I grew through the years. I definitely wasn’t consistent, and I was often over dramatic, but I’m glad I tried this thing out for a while.

That being said, there’s an expiration date on this chapter of my life: December 2018. In six months I’ll be graduating and looking for a teaching job and, though I don’t have anything incriminating on this site, it’d probably be best if I delete the whole thing.

Still, I have six months left! And even though I haven’t even logged on in the past year, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I’ve been keeping other journals here and there and I think I have some stuff I might want to share before I say goodbye.

Plus (for some odd reason) I’m still getting new followers! I’m really not sure why but there have been some new users checking out this blog (in the past month especially). So hi to everyone, old and new. I hope you stick around for a bit.

Let’s see what the last few months will hold.

Sincerely,

Sammy

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[REVIEW] ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING BY RAY BRADBURY

Dear Reader,

Remember when I watched that video by Ariel Bissett and was convinced that I, too, needed to buy a typewriter? Well, in that same video, she recommended the book “Zen in the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury. She said she loved to read this book whenever she needed motivation to write. So I requested it from the library because, just like how I’m a sucker for books about books/reading, I’m also a sucker for books about writing.

“Zen in the Art of Writing” is actually a collection of essays written by Ray Bradbury that were published in his lifetime. He talks about his processes and inspirations. He has essays about Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles–about how they came to be as well as what they have continued to be and mean to him. He also just has a lot of anecdotes from his childhood and even adult life that really prove just how weird of a character he was.

And I mean that as a sincere compliment. After all, everybody knows that the weird ones are always the ones to change the world.

Before picking this up, I had never read anything by Ray Bradbury. We didn’t have to read Fahrenheit 451 in any of my high school English classes and I had never even heard of his other stuff–though I understand now that his other work was extremely successful as well.

But I devoured this. It was a pretty easy read because of how short it is. All of his essays are so compact and he doesn’t really stray from his main point–which is something I tend to worry about when reading something written by “one of the greats.” Bradbury is a bit different, though. His writing isn’t overtly flowery and his vocabulary isn’t super complicated or outdated, even. He wrote about his editing process, so I know he has one, but his writing reads more like a stream of conscious thought. Even so, when he does use larger words or phrases something in a more poetic fashion, it doesn’t seem out of place. In fact, one of my favorite things he does is using multiple beautifully-stated examples or metaphors to explain something. It is how he thinks. It just comes across as authentic.

Like I said, I checked this book out of the library, meaning I had to resist marking the pages. I do plan to buy my own copy, though, so I can highlight, star, and underline to my heart’s content. For the time being, though, I decided to take notes on my typewriter of certain quotes or sentiments I liked. I might even make a post later of my favorite parts. It’d be too much to include here, though, because my notes go on for pages.

At this point, it probably goes without saying that I rated this book 5 stars. It’s one of my new favorites and I’m so excited to not only reread it, but to share it in my future classroom. There were so many passages and lines that I wrote out because I know they can benefit students. There are a few entire essays that I want my future classes to read, but there are also so many quotes and sentiments I want to share with them about writing and editing and reading and living.

In this book, Bradbury talked about why we read–and why we read what we read. About science-fiction, he said “It’s not escapist, it’s essential; it’s problem-solving.” He also talked about why we write. Everyone has a story–and just like how there was only one Shakespeare and one Dickens, there is only one of every single person in the world.

“You, the prism, measure the light of the world; it burns through your mind to throw a different spectroscopic reading onto white paper than anyone else anywhere can throw. Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper. Make your own individual spectroscopic reading.”

Everyone is a poet, he said. This is clear when you get them talking about something they love–when you see their passion burning through them in front of your eyes.

Of course, everyone has their own story and their own things to share, but they might get caught up when they try to communicate. Language trips them up. So it is vital that we learn the tricks of the trade–you must learn technique so you don’t trip when you try to run.

God that man was a genius. Not only was he great, but he had the power to make everyone else feel like they could be great, too.

Sincerely,

Sammy

READY PLAYER ONE & SOME THOUGHTS ON MEDIUM

Dear Reader,

This morning I watched the trailer for Ready Player One and I got chills. The story is about a boy living in a world that exists primarily online–in The Oasis–rather than in reality.

I listened to this book during the spring semester of my sophomore year and was obsessed. It began during my workouts–to motivate me to spend more than just twenty minutes on the elliptical–but I ended up playing it constantly. I had it going as I walked to class, as I did my laundry, even as I worked on my Big/Little reveal shirt in our suite, while in the company of others. One time I found myself at work much too early, so I took a few laps around the library and continued listening to the story. I laughed out loud at times, and even gasped when they mentioned Hamilton, Ohio–a town I visited almost weekly while on campus.

The story was so captivating and thought-provoking, and by listening to it, I really saw it play out like a movie in my head. So you can imagine my extreme excitement when I happened upon the trailer this morning.

Like I said–chills. I think this story could be beautifully translated into a movie. I think a lot of stories could. It all felt so real and magical in my head, but seeing the Oasis and the adventure on the big screen could be truly amazing. I mean, we have so much at our disposal to make these sci-fi and fantasy stories come to life. It worked well with Harry Potter–YEARS ago–and with Fantastic Beasts, we were shown how much more can be done to tell the story now. And tell it in a way that does the original work justice. Perhaps tell it in a way that it was meant to be told.

This got me thinking about medium. Again, I just recently mentioned Edgar Wright popping up on the screen before Baby Driver began and thanking the audience for coming to see his creation–the work that he wrote and directed–in it’s intended form. He was talking about coming to the theater, of course, but it also spoke about the medium he chose. Baby Driver had a great storyline with vibrant characters and could be made into a play or a novel or even a cartoon, but it excelled as a live-action movie. And maybe Wright can’t draw or chose against a novel because he wanted the audience to hear the music (which is integral to the story and the experience), but this story that only existed in his head, he had to get out in some form. This form was cinema, and it worked beautifully. And I don’t think it’d be the same in any other form.

Still, going back to Harry Potter, some books excel on the big screen. And some certainly don’t–I’m looking at you, Eragon and Percy Jackson. So whenever I see that a favorite book of mine is being adapted into a movie, I’m first excited because I think of all the possible routes they might take, but I’m also worried that they’re going to screw everything up.

But people are always going to make books into movies and classics into graphic novels and stories into musicals and so on and so on and so on. One of my favorite books, Noughts and Crosses, was made into a graphic novel and is supposedly being turned into a show on the BBC. Another favorite, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, already exists as a novel and a movie and is currently being adapted into a musical–starring the understudy for Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen (I took quite a winding road when I discovered that one night).

It’s just interesting to think about the way the artist intended to share their story. Take Shakespeare–all of his plays were meant to be performed live and watched by crowds of people who experienced the story together. Now his work has been adapted into movies and graphic novels and is most often read–even further, dissected–by high school- and college-aged kids across the country.

I like that, though–that variety. I do like consuming art the way it was intended, but I also like seeing the different elements that each medium can add to a story. Even listening to a book vs. reading it can evoke different emotions or mean more or less to different people. When a story is great, I’m always interested in seeing all the different ways it can be told–even if I end up liking one significantly more than the other, which is often the case. Warm Bodies is better as a book, Thirteen Reasons Why is better as a TV show (though still not a favorite), Newsies is better as a movie, and Hamilton works best as a musical–which might be most surprising (yet most agreed-upon) of all. But I’ll still test each one out so I can experience the story in new ways and come to my own conclusion, really finding out what resonates with me–and then I can talk to people who have very different opinions and learn even more.

I still need to read the books of movies I love like Catch Me If You Can and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I still need to read Game of Thrones and Valerian before seeing them on screen. And maybe one day I’ll watch Shrek: The Musical on Netflix, since I love the movie so much. (I’ve heard the musical really isn’t that bad, but I want to come to my own conclusion.)

So I’m excited to see Ready Player One in theaters. I’m also excited for when Crazy Rich Asians comes out, and if they ever decide to turn The Night Circus into a movie or Netflix series, the first emotion I’ll feel will certainly be excitement as my mind reels with the possibilities.

But if they ever made Bojack Horseman–a show I love dearly–into a live-action film, I would want no part in it.

There’s a line, I think. And some things just wouldn’t work.

(But maybe I’m wrong.)

Sincerely,

Sammy

SHIT I LIKE: THE FIRST INSTALLMENT

Dear Reader,

Every once in awhile, something will catch my attention–a quote, an anecdote, a fact–things that are funny or interesting–I’ll hear something and I’ll think, that’s sick. I want to remember that.

So I’ll write it down. I’ll make a note of it wherever I happen to find it. Most of them end up in one of my journals or as a note in my phone, but some of them are all over the place. If I hear something cool in class, I’ll scribble it in the margins of my notes. If I see something interesting on Twitter or Tumblr, I’ll take a screenshot. Sometimes I’ll come across something in a book, so I’ll leave a sticky note to mark the page.

It’s a fine method that works for the most part, but it doesn’t do a great job of keeping them all in one place. And many of these spots are hardly revisited so they’re often forgotten, which defeats the whole purpose.

So now, whenever I come across a random note, I’ll add it to my growing list entitled “Shit I Like.” And I thought I might as well start sharing some of that list on here, as well. So here are some cool anecdotes and quotes from books and movies that I’ve come across lately and have sparked some thoughts within me.

No. 1: The idea behind Penguin Books.

Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books, was traveling and had nothing to read. He dreamt of good literature that was available everywhere and cheap. So in 1935, the first Penguin paperbacks arrived, featuring Ernest Hemingway, Andre Maurois, and Agatha Christie among others. They were color-coded (orange-novels, blue-biographies, green-crime) and cost sixpence–the same price as a packet of cigarettes.

The “Armed Forces Book Club” then began to spread joy & entertainment among the soldiers. The small size of these paperbacks fit perfectly in their uniform pockets. They were also prized in prison camps. (Information from Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend)

No 2: From a sign in the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore in Vienna.

“Penguin Classics opens the door to a treasure house of pure pleasures.”

No. 3: A revelation from the movie Into the Wild. 

HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.

No. 4: The importance of a single book.

British writer Henry Green is largely forgotten & never sold more than a few thousand copies of his novels, but he largely inspired Sebastian Faulks, Eudora Welty, and Anthony Burgess. John Updike wrote that Green’s novels made “more of a stylistic impact on me than those of any writer living or dead.” Even a book read by only a dozen people can have a massive effect if one of those readers goes on to write a book read by millions. (Information from Books for Living)

No. 5: A message at the beginning of the movie Baby Driver. 

I went and saw Baby Driver in theaters a little over a week ago. Before it played, a man popped up on the screen and introduced himself as Edgar Wright. He thanked the audience for coming to see the movie that he had written and directed, but also thanked us for coming to see it in the form that it was created for. Watching the movie, it was clear what he meant.

The storyline was great and all the elements of the story were there. It’s possible that it could be adapted into a great book or graphic novel or translated onto some other medium–but it was also clear what medium it was meant for. All of the decisions Wright made were clearly intentional and he wanted us to know. He wanted to thank us for coming to experience his art the way he intended for it to be experienced.

Sincerely,

Sammy

FIVE REASONS WHY I BOUGHT A TYPEWRITER

Dear Reader,

When I woke up on Wednesday, I definitely did not think I was going to buy a typewriter. I had never thought about purchasing one before, actually, but I started to after watching this video. I spent the morning researching everything about typewriters, reading reviews and articles about where to buy them from, and going over my budget to see if I could swing it. At the end of it, though, I figured there were way more reasons to say yes than no.

[ONE] NO SCREEN: I spent the entire day on Tuesday behind a screen. It’s kind of impressive when I look at how productive I was able to be without even leaving my house–or the couch, for that matter–but I went to bed with bloodshot eyes and a pounding headache. Still, I need to set goals for myself if I want to improve my writing and make progress on my novel, and doing that always adds screen-time to my daily schedule. Writing by hand is out of the question because of how easily my hand cramps and how illegible my writing gets, but typewriting is the perfect alternative.

[TWO] FOCUS ON WRITING: The other benefit is that I can completely unplug. When I write on the computer, there are so many distractions–especially since I’m on Google Docs. Any time a random question pops into my head, I can just open another tab and look for the answer. Whether I end up on the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums List or looking up why the QWERTY keyboard is set up the way it is, it’s way too easy for me to get sucked down rabbit holes.  With a typewriter, I can just play an album or put a playlist on shuffle, leave my phone charging in a separate room, and type for a bit, distraction-free.

[THREE] SLOW DOWN: One major reason why I started typing everything over writing down my thoughts by hand is because my brain moves so much faster than my pen. It’s much easier for me to ramble when I’m typing–I can write 1,000 words on a subject I’m passionate about without even breaking a sweat. But sometimes this is a disservice. This writing isn’t good by any means. It’s drawn-out and filled with tangents and by the time I’m done, I’m miles away from where I wanted to go.

When I’m forced to slow down, though, my writing improves. I choose my words more carefully and I stick to the main point. The added benefit of using a typewriter is that I have more stamina when it comes to typing than writing–even though it does require more force to push down the keys than what I’m used to with a computer. This adds to it as well, though, because it makes me want to write better. If I’m going to go through the whole process that involves everything from loading the paper to manually starting each new line to resetting it when the keys jam, I’m going to punch each key with conviction.

[FOUR] IT’S VALIDATING: Along those lines, the whole process makes it worth it. There’s something validating about the clacks and dings and something beautiful about having something tangible at the end of it. I can start the day with just thoughts and ideas and watch as it forms into something I can hold and say, “look at what I made today.”

[FIVE]: IT’S SO PRETTY: All of these reasons can be summed up to the fact that I think a typewriter will help me be more productive, and this one is no exception. I spent the entire morning researching which typewriters are best for beginners and capable of heavy use and I ultimately decided on one from “We R Memory Keepers” that I picked up from TJ Maxx for a total of $170. It’s brand new, mint green, and definitely a splurge, but it was easily the best deal I found.

So many people on the internet shared their bad experiences of purchasing typewriters from sites like eBay and Etsy. Some sellers don’t properly package and ship them and spent weeks trying to negotiate prices. I considered getting one from a reliable source like TypeWriters101.com–I considered the funky-looking 1966 Royal Safari from the Space-Age era as well as the pale blue 1960s Brother De Luxe, but I didn’t want to spend that much money or wait weeks to get it. I wanted to start writing immediately.

I think it’d be really cool to eventually buy one that has history attached to it, but for now, the one I have is exactly the one I need. It might not be cool and vintage, but I love the way it looks and it certainly gets the job done. When I look over and see it sitting on the desk, I’m drawn to it. I want to write. 

Ray Bradbury said “The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me.”

Now I’m excited to do the same. 

Sincerely,

Sammy

THE BOOKS I READ ABROAD

Dear Reader,

I always try to make reading a priority. This is a lot easier when I have more free time, but even when I have free time, I don’t always devote it to reading. I haven’t read nearly as many books this summer as I would’ve liked–although I will argue that I’ve been productive. I’ve been trying to write and organize some things and I’ve actually left the apartment on occasion to go to the rec and work out. Big things are happening.

It’s funny, though, because I had a lot less free time in Europe, but I spent the majority of it reading. Wifi wasn’t always available (or reliable), but I had three books in my bags that always were. Also, while I enjoyed the people on the trip, it was exhausting having to constantly interact with people. I would often slip to the back of the bus or up to my hotel room when I needed an escape.

God I love books.

I started chipping away at The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern at the beginning of the trip. The storyline is really intricate and seems pretty convoluted at first, so I would just read a few chapters before bed while I stayed in Luxembourg. At the end of the week, though, we took a six-hour bus ride to Switzerland.

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This was heaven. I claimed the last row of seats, sprawled out, and read the last 200-or-so pages.

I really don’t binge books like this that often. The only books I read in one sitting tend to be graphic novels or short books that I need to finish for class. The Night Circus was completely different for me.

The story jumps back and forth between time and tells it from multiple different perspectives, but once you get to the point of the book where you’ve figured it all out–and once you get to the point where all the side stories are reaching their climaxes–it’s hard to put it down.

I was completely captivated–and I’m sure the people around me would’ve noticed my occasional audible reactions if they weren’t asleep or had headphones on. I wouldn’t have cared, though. I was nestled up against the window so the falling rain would be in my peripheral and didn’t take my nose out of the book until it was done.

The writing is so vivid that I saw it all playing out like a movie in my head, but I think that it would work so well as a series because there are so many twists and turns–it wouldn’t be hard to ensure that each episode has a cliffhanger or two. I would love if this turned into a Netflix series or something. In this day, we have so much that could ensure that it would be visually stunning and truly magical.

Of course, that’s a risky thing to wish for because I would hate if they screwed it up–Eragon and Percy Jackson fans were pumped for their movies, and those certainly didn’t live up. That’s the risk when you have a book that good–and The Night Circus is that good.

It’s definitely one of my new favorites and is a story that’s going to stay with me. After I put it down and went back to the real world, I felt like I could see the beautiful things in life so much clearer. It might’ve been because I was in Europe and seeing cool sites anyway, but a week after I finished it, I was walking around Prater in Vienna–not a circus, but an amusement park. It might have reminded me of this book because of how old it is and all the history it has, but I was walking around, thinking, there’s definitely magic in this air.

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While in Luxembourg, my friends and I went to an English bookstore. I picked up a book called Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend and knew I had to buy it after reading the back. Ultimately, it’s a story about a girl who travels from Sweden to the US to visit a friend. She ends up in a town in the middle of nowhere and ends up opening a bookstore.

First of all, I’m a sucker for books about books. I think most booklovers are. When books you already love are mentioned, you gain a connection to the story and the characters that are talking about them, and when books you haven’t yet read are brought up, you get more books to add to your reading list. Plus, the protagonist that loves books more than people is too relatable.

Second, I knew I had to buy it as a memento from the trip. I’m constantly trying to build my library, and when I put this one in my classroom, I can say that it’s a book that I bought while I was studying other school systems and learning how to be a better teacher, which I think is cool as hell. It also at least mentions travelling/Europe, so it’s relevant in that case, and it’s translated from Swedish to English–which I also think is cool.

As for the story, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Again, though, this is in part because I’m a sucker. The story begins by describing the main character as too plain to be a protagonist and too focused on stories to have a life of her own. This immediately sets the book up to be relatable, and then when everything that you would expect to happen happens, you just feel comforted.

There are enough secondary storylines and gems within the novel (book recommendations, fun anecdotes, good quotes) that I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything by spelling out the pattern.

Young woman moves to small town and falls in love with the life she ends up living there. She opens a bookstore, makes friends, and falls in love. That’s the dream. That’s the cliche, and it’s all set up from the beginning that her life is not like a book–but then, obviously, her life has to end up as a story worth telling.

So I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t rate it 5 stars or even recommend it to everyone–I told Sarah to read it and she decided she was done with it within 100 pages. It’s pretty lengthy, and while it drags in some places, I would say it even leaves a bit to be desired. Still, I liked it. And I liked that I read it abroad. I’ll look at it on my shelf and think back to buying it in Luxembourg and reading it in the Swiss Alps. I smiled like a goof at some of the pages and decided almost immediately that I would love to own a bookstore one day. It’s not for everyone, but I was entertained and even a bit inspired. That’s a good read by my standards.

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Around Christmastime, I bought Where’d You Go, Bernadette and was really excited about it because I had heard how smart and funny it was. So I started it in January–around the same time that I also started a classical mythology class that turned out to be way more demanding than I had figured. That was the main reason why I put the book back on the shelf after finishing “Part 1,” but the reason why I never went back to it is because I just wasn’t that interested.

I certainly saw merit in the praise it received. I thought the characters were really well developed and the writing was great–everything was smart and funny all around. I guess I just didn’t see the point of the book, I guess. This is kind of funny now that I’ve finished it because I can see it clearly now–and I can see why I was so uninterested. Though there is a driving plot in the story, this novel is so much more about what it has to say, now what it has to tell about what happened.

The story is about Bernadette, a wife and mother, who disappears, and her young teen daughter who is trying to find her. The story is told from letters and emails from multiple characters and direct narration from Bee (the daughter), but because Bernadette’s voice is still present throughout, you’re not worried that she’s really gone or won’t be found–or, at least, I wasn’t.

So even though the plot summary may make it seem like it’s a gripping mystery, that’s probably not the best expectation to have. It’s more a story about family and love. Bernadette is neurotic and has crazy standards for success and it’s interesting to see watch as everything comes together.

It really is an enjoyable read. All of the characters are super intelligent and Bee is so lovable–even when Bernadette isn’t. I’ll definitely be rereading it, though, and I’m excited to see how I see the story with the new perspective I now have because of it.

God, aren’t books great?

Sincerely,

Sammy