Category Archives: Rachel S.

7

The power of the period. Or comma. Or colon. Or …

One of the things I stress most over, when writing, is punctuation. (WAIT, WERE THOSE COMMAS RIGHT, JUST NOW? IS THIS PARENTHETICAL OKAY IF IT’S  ITS OWN SENTENCE? OH GOD, AM I SUPPOSED TO PUT THE PERIOD INSIDE OR OUTSIDE THE PARENTHESES IN THIS SITUATION? I’LL JUST WING IT.)

It’s funny, because most of the time I just view punctuation as a banal necessity to make sure your words aren’t misinterpreted (See: either any and all arguments for the serial comma or this amusing article on Buzzfeed). It’s stressful because there is a generally agreed upon right way to do things and if you don’t know the right way to use a particular punctuation mark there’s the absolute horror of being called out on it at some point and coming up blank. I’m mostly sure I know when and why to use a semi-colon, but please, don’t ask me to explain in front of anyone.

I still remember the day I learned the difference between and em-dash and an en-dash (and to a lesser extent, the hyphen, only included because it’s visually similar) and it changed my world. The em-dash is now, I think, my absolute favorite punctuation, to the point where I actually have to go back and edit some of them out of things I’ve written so as not to overwhelm.

Vulture posted an article by Kathryn Schulz yesterday, “The 5 Best Punctuation Marks in Literature” that I just loved and that really got the wheels turning in my head. Of course, I suppose I’d always been aware of punctuation as a literary device, just as much as anything else, but because it’s something used in even the most ordinary of sentences, it’s never stuck out as particularly powerful to me before. After reading this, however, not only am I convinced, but I’ve started noticing the punctuation in everything I read—and write, which is bound to get distracting eventually, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I think my favorite of the examples that Schulz presents are Nabokov’s parenthetical and Dickens’ colon—both are masterful and truly do change the sentiment and takeaway from each passage in which they appear. Reading through the comments, I notice someone lit upon just what I myself had been thinking of as I read—what about the lack of proper punctuation, or heck, punctuation at all to bring home a point or strengthen an emotion? One commenter referenced Molly Bloom’s monologue at the very end of Joyce’s Ulysses and her rushed, hurried, full of sensation, devoid of thought “and yes I said yes I will Yes” has always been one of my favorite closing lines in literature and it couldn’t have been as perfect as it was if there had been even a single comma betwixt the words—I’ll go on record saying that.

What about you? Any particular mark of punctuation just really not do it for you? Elude you in the proper way it’s meant to be used? Do you have any more literary references for its excellent use? I’d love to hear them.

0

Friday musing

Dastardly co-worker that he is, Jim introduced me to this game presented by National Book Tokens. The kind of girl that pored over pages and pages of rebus puzzles as a kid, this is exactly the kind of thing I jumped at the chance to solve.

It took some creative thinking and a little bit of ask the audience, but in the end we figured out all the book titles. I’m always a fan of puzzles that seem completely absurd and impossible at first glance, but when, after some real thinking and concentration, become glaringly obvious—the thrill of an answer becoming clear in the mind can make anyone feel like a genius.

It’s funny, these literary puzzles, games, checklists and whatever else is out there on the internet that I haven’t yet discovered. Whenever I solve the entire thing, I feel validated in my choice of major in college, career path, declared passion, but then I look back and realize that I’ve maybe only actually read about half to three-quarters of the book titles that are the answers. Whether it’s a cover recognition test, a match the characters to the book, or a crazy fun rebus-esque enigma, much of my knowledge comes from who knows where, but certainly not personal experience from having gone through the books myself.

Sure, I can pick out the cover of Catch-22 anywhere, can tell you that Hester Prynne is the leading lady in The Scarlet Letter or that In the Name of the Rose was written by Umberto Eco, but I have never read any of those books (all three of which do happen to be frequent answers on these booky-type quizzes). It’s a similar bank of knowledge that I dip into for solving crosswords—four letter word for architect Saaranin? That’s EERO, and I’m 100% positive of that every time even though I have absolutely no other knowledge about the man.

It’s the kind of knowledge that’s dangerous, can make you believe you know more than you actually do—nay, understand more than you actually do. Sometimes I have to really think to figure out whether I actually have read a book or whether I’ve just heard so much about it and know enough of the basics to trick myself into thinking I have.

Before I get too down on myself, it’s good to remember that there’s a whole giant bunch of books that I have read (though still not that many architects that I’m intimately familiar with) and there are a great number of authors whose oeuvres I have devoured. It’s impossible to get through everything, I promise, so I suppose I should be grateful that the stories and titles that have somehow wedged their way into my referential knowledge are ready and available when I need them and I don’t have to worry about never having read them.

And, really, knowing the answers, no matter how you do, is the fun part, so enjoy your Fridays and take a crack at the puzzle!

0

Too much or not enough?

It’s my best friend’s birthday this weekend. I’ve known this girl since we were both twelve, so needless to say, we’ve had some birthday practice since then. And presents practice. I don’t know when or why, but several years ago, I started gifting her with tacky or overly sentimental animal-themed coffee table books to go along with whatever real present I got her. I’ll admit I stopped doing this once we both moved to Brooklyn and started sharing an apartment…self-preservation?

I wish we had a gorgeous, spacious, display-possible apartment in which to showcase an enormous collection of books whose purpose isn’t so much to be read, but more to flip through while bored, amuse guests or serve as some other kind of curiosity whether for conversation’s sake or whatever else. Then I would just keep filling our lives with conversation pieces and coffee table décor, though I might branch out into non pet or baby animal related material, too.

It’s been some time since I’ve gifted a new silly book and I think it’s a tradition I’d like to reawaken (she says once before forgetting about it come Christmas). It all started with Rachael Hale’s 101 Cataclysms soon followed by her equally adorable 101 Salivations and moved on to various books detailing absurd dog houses (sorry, palaces), various babies at the zoo and a personal favorite in which you simply picked which of a pair of cats shown was the cutest and then moved on to the next page and pairing.

As you can see, it’s easy to get overwhelmed! When books are produced just based on a concept of cuteness, wackiness, beauty or what have you, things can get out of hand. Sure, a book consisting solely of photos of pretty front doors in the countryside (just riffing here, but I’ll put a bet down that such a book exists) is a marketable concept and I’m sure enough people would buy it to give it a shot, but where do you stop? How do you choose? I ask this of both publishers and book buyers. When do you put your foot down and call a halt to the hundreds of coffee table book ideas surely pitched each day or, on the other side of the coin, how on earth do you decide which one to buy? I can’t tell you the sheer volume of photos of kitties I looked at before settling on Cataclysms (it may also have had something to do with the title).

Okay, I need to stop now or I’ll just keep going and get carried away (the first time I uttered this statement today was roaming the aisles of Party City, which offered a surprisingly similar bombardment of color, sparkle, cuteness and choice), but how do you feel about books that seem to exist just for the heck of it? And if you’re pro these books, do they ever make it to your home, or is their sole purpose exhausted after one flip-through, a chuckle and an “aww” in the bookstore?

CUTE DOGS ARE CUTE

To be honest, I have “read” this book on more than two occasions.

 

4

Spooky times

Coming into mid-October it’s hard to ignore the blatant signs that Halloween is fast approaching. As a kid, I was never really into the scary aspect of the holiday as I lamely get frightened extraordinarily easily. My costumes consisted of things like ballerina, genie (three times running), jester, butterfly, Peter Pan and the like. I preferred to be silly or cute rather than gory or haunting.

Candy—gobs and gobs of candy—aside, for we all know that’s the greatest part of the holiday, I’ve always found the tradition and storytelling around Halloween fascinating. The same stories have been told for years. Classic horror tales are succinct and hard forgotten and I’m sure that kids are still getting spooked by the one about the two prom goers stuck in a broken down car, with the hook methodically tapping on its roof even though cell phones are ubiquitous nowadays.

The scariest story for me, however, was The Girl with the Green Ribbon. It wasn’t particularly chilling or really that horrifying at all. Just a story about a girl who always wore a green ribbon around her neck, referenced throughout the story of her life until the day her curious husband implores her to untie it, despite her protestations. The story simply ends (spoiler alert!) with her head falling off. No aftermath, no more to say. The simplicity of the tale might have been the part the got to me, because I remember being chilled to the bone by this one growing up.

Whenever I mention the story to friends or anyone with whom I happen to be discussing scary things with (happens all the time, guys), I’m often met with blank stares, so it was with delight that I saw the tale hitting #13 on Buzzfeed’s 14 Books That Traumatized You As A Kid the other day. I wasn’t making it up! And I’m not alone!

In the spirit of the season, what are your favorite scary stories (to tell in the dark or the light)?

7

Parting is such sweet sorrow

You might be surprised to learn that here at DGLM we’ve got a lot of books. A ton of books. So many books that we’re tripping over them, ducking so that we don’t get hit by them falling from teetering towers, and constantly moving and re-shelving them to make space for the books that just keep arriving.

So that we don’t suffocate in the inevitable glut of paper and ink (the office isn’t that big, guys), there’s a lot of nice donating that goes on around here. A few times a year I get to pack up a whole bunch of old books and inventory them with the help of a few trusty interns and send them off to places where they’ll go to good use.

That’s an easy solution for a place with so many books, but what to do with your own personal collection? I know we’re already out of room in my apartment—even with two giant bookcases, the extras are starting to pile up in interesting places on the floor, on chairs, on tables and under things. There’s even a giant bag my roommate and I filled over a year ago with “books we don’t care about, have doubles of or don’t want anymore,” yet it’s still sitting there, cumbersome and in the way.

It’s hard to let go of a book, even if it’s one I know I’ll never read again or never liked very much in the first place. There are memories and associations paired with each and every one, whether or not they have anything to do with the actual story or content. The same goes for clothes and shoes—whether they no longer fit, are falling apart (often my case with shoes), or are dreadfully, woefully hideous beyond any comprehension and I have no idea when or why I ever wore such a thing. Still, it’s painful to part with them.

I’m not a pack rat or a hoarder, it’s easy for me to nonchalantly discard most anything else, but donating books seems difficult. They need to go to the right place, to a place where they’ll be appreciated again and not just thrown in the corner. Right? Does it matter? What do you do with your spares and excess? Do you take them to secondhand shops, give them to people you think might enjoy them, or, and I shudder, just throw them in the trash? What other options are there?

Latest boxes off for donation!

 

 

1

Books, always being tricky

It’s common fact that we all judge books by their covers, but I know that I at least also make some pretty unfounded assumptions about a potential literary purchase based on its size. While I might be excited to dive into a lengthy tome if the subject interests me, it’s never one that I’ll expect to be “fun.” Small font, tissue-thin paper and a high page count might be impressive and I’ll probably feel a bit braggy for reading it in public, but the long, important looking books that end up being pulpy or zany or funny or really anything other than literary intellectual heavyweights are always a surprise.

I’ve talked before about being deceived by Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and I still think it’s the perfect example of a dull, yet intelligent looking book that turned out to be a completely engrossing, witty, darkly comic book about some crazy college kids that still reigns as one of my favorites today.

Publishers Weekly approached the topic with their announcement of the publication of A to ‘Zibaldone’, a collection of thoughts, musings and extrapolations from the notebooks of Gicomo Leopardi, who died way back in 1837. This tome weighs in at a whopping 2,500 pages and given the one line description, it’s definitely not something I would consider for completely pleasurable reading. However, the book is apparently incredibly engaging! PW calls is a “nightstand book rather than a doorstopper” and even recommends it as a possible beach read…providing you have the upper arm strength and bag room to lug it around.

The assumption of course goes the other way, too, as there are plenty of tiny books I’ve picked up on a whim only to find them impossible to get into or sometimes even understand.

How about you? Are you intimidated by a high page count? What books have surprised you by completely betraying the prejudice of their length?

2

Cats! Books! Friday!

I’m often made fun of for not being very good at the internet. By that I don’t mean being incapable of Googling or not knowing how to properly use email, but that I often pick out what I think are hilarious and timely gifs or videos only to be told, mockingly, that these things are in fact ancient. I endure this steadily from family and friends, figuring it’s better to be good at tangible, real life things anyway.

That being said, did you guys know that cats are pretty much the internet’s favorite things? And since books are our favorite things, I figured if we combine the two, then I’ll have rocketed this blog up into cool things on the internet.

Cats and books aren’t a new phenomenon, really. Pets in general have often played a central role in literature, and are commonly even the complete focal point of some of the most popular or tear-jerking literature out there. We had a reading teacher in sixth grade who cried reading aloud every time we got to the point where one of the dogs died in Where the Red Fern Grows, no matter she’d been teaching the book for over a decade.

Characters like the Chesire Cat have grown into common vernacular references, his grin in particular used to symbolize untrustworthy folk. Those Harry Potter fans among us (and get out if you’re not) will know that Hermione’s Crookshanks played a vital role in the series—and was probably forced to spend a whole lot of time around massive stacks of books as well, considering his owner’s penchant for research.

I’m pretty sure cats themselves can’t actually read, but here are a few who would rather spend some time with a book instead of being featured in one.

There’s this cat who will soon take over the world:

 

This guy, who is probably more pretentious than I could ever hope to be:

 

This one who would really prefer you leave him alone while he’s reading:

 

He clearly forgot that it’s almost impossible to read in the sunlight without blinding yourself if you aren’t wearing sunglasses:

 

This kitty looks scandalized, and I’d like to know why:

 

 

Happy Friday everyone, get some reading in, pet a cat (or actually, don’t. I don’t really like cats), and pretty much, just enjoy your weekend!

0

Series of friends

Though if I were to encounter them now, I would be annoyed and bored to tears, the reliability and formulaic construction of most of the book series’ I read growing up were some of the things that kept me coming back for more. There was comfort in the set-up, the fact that somewhere in the first couple chapters of a Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley or Nancy Drew book there was going to be a description of Claudia Kishi’s bedroom with candy hidden all over it, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s blue-green eyes and long blonde hair or Nancy Drew’s titian hair and blue Mustang convertible.

The characters were so set in their ways that you knew you could count on them. There was a certain style, demeanor and personality that you could immediately attribute to each one, and to an eleven-year-old girl, that really made each of them feel familiar and more like friends than products of a factory of ghostwriters pumping out a book a month (and believe you me, if there wasn’t a new one of each on the shelves each month there was a really disappointed little Rachel scrutinizing that shelf just one more time).

Not only are the descriptions repetitive for the sake of connecting the books together, they are detailed. There could be no mistaking the outfits or physical features of any of the main players, which, it turns out, I have more fun with now than I ever did then. When Buzzfeed posted this article today detailing some of the favorites of the YA series world (okay, plus Harriet the Spy) I couldn’t help but giggle at the lengthy, perfect descriptions. However excessive seeming, I’d like to think they were and still are necessary to evoke the same connection to the characters and tone of the series as a whole.

An older blog, What Claudia Wore is another gem, and I had to scramble to find it today to present it to you. Paragraph-long depictions of Claudia’s zaniest outfits are posted, and though I remember being envious of her “funky” and “cool” style, I’ll admit that it was Dawn who I always wanted to be the most. A blog for her outfits would be far less entertaining, alas, but does lead me to my final thought on the subject.

The uniformity in style and personality left no room for interpretation, which, I think, works really well in the books’ favors and why they became as popular as they did. The girl you pictured in your head was the exact same as the girl your friend pictured, too. It was always so easy then to definitively say which babysitter, which Wakefield twin you not only wanted to be, but were (especially important since there are few people more self-involved than teenage girls).

I always went with Dawn and Elizabeth, but that’s just me.

1

Escape

In the middle of this blistering heat, the only thing I can think of is getting out and far away, to somewhere that doesn’t result in immediate sweat the second you step out of doors or require smushing against fifty other people in a subway car or busy city block.

I can only ogle the crisp, breezy looking photographs in my Groupon Getaways emails for so long before realizing I have no need for an all-inclusive family vacation to a four star hotel in Mexico (also, definitely hot there), yet still feel the need to at least fantasize about a realistic escape.

At my wit’s end, I stumbled across Flavorwire’s “50 Places Ever Literary Fan Should Visit” and, as is my compulsion with every list of things to read, listen to, watch, visit or do whatever else you are supposed to have done, check off everything I’ve already got in the bag. Sadly, I can only lay claim to three of the fifty—and not even any of the ones in New York! To be honest, I had no idea so many literary landmarks were in such a small radius of my home.

Of course, the impetus here is to leave the heat behind, so I won’t feel so bad about it yet. Though there are a million more exotic, more prodigious and more exciting venues and monuments on the list, the one that struck me with the biggest pang was Green Gables on Prince Edward Island. A rabid L.M. Montgomery fan as a girl, my dream vacation growing up was a trip to Prince Edward Island (P.E. Island to those of us in the know). To see it on this list brought me back to all the times I begged and begged to go there—I think I had an idea that it was kind of like Colonial Williamsburg, which was another favorite of mine and the destination of not one, but two family vacations at my request.

I also couldn’t help but smile at the James Joyce’s Dublin entry on the list. As a personal project of mine (and okay, for a grade), I mapped out Leopold Bloom’s famed traipse around the city and its surrounding areas, complete with photos, quotes and analyses. It was a long day of walking and trains, which I guess it a lot of energy to expend on just checking off 1/50th of a list. Good going, Rachel.

Flipping through the slideshow was a good mental escape, trip down memory lane and bucket list facilitator for me. I know there are far more than fifty great literary destinations in the world and I’d love to know what ones you have visited or can introduce to me.

2

Old, but not forgotten.

There’ve been a whole lot of nostalgic lists and posts floating around the internet lately, particularly geared towards those that grew up in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s gotten almost ridiculous—there are only so many times you can get excited reminiscing about Gushers, Legends of the Hidden Temple, super soakers, Dunkaroos and Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

That’s not to say the lists aren’t fun—they are—but they can get a little tired and repetitive after a while. I remember in college, if you ever were at a loss of what to talk about with a group of people you didn’t really know (that happens a lot in college), the go-to was just to bring up old Nickelodeon TV shows. The conversation was ever and always the same, but for some reason, it got everyone interested and vying to put in their two cents about Clarissa Explains it All and Are You Afraid of the Dark?

I always pretended to contribute to these conversations, but the truth is, I wasn’t allowed to watch any television growing up outside of PBS. I was one of “those kids.” I’m sure it helped a little to shape me into who I am today, but I’m not here to wax poetic about the values of a childhood not in front of screens, nor about the evils of too much TV* (‘cause I sure did get my fill of Arthur, The Magic School Bus and Zoom until my eyes near fell out). What I’m getting at here, is that the best “remember that” conversations I ever had always had to do with books.

As with television shows, there’s a commonality in the books we all read growing up. As kids and young adults, there were only so many options. Talking about favorite snacks, toys, games and television shows can only get you so far. The experiences with each of those had to have been fairly similar. With books though, as ever, there’s a real individuality for every reader. I re-read books so much more as a kid than I do now, and my connection with my favorite protagonists was fervently strong. Because it’s a subject talked about less frequently, it’s much more exciting when someone casually mentions a favorite book or character from their childhood and there’s a sudden explosive “YOU READ THAT, TOO?!?!” that comes from whomever is in earshot. The conversation, then, can be different and valuable every time.

The other weekend, a friend and I took the trip down to South Jersey, where I grew up, to spend the weekend (not exactly beach weather, but nice nonetheless). She was staying in the guest room where many of my books have been relegated over the years. As a child of an Irish mother, we spent a lot of time overseas in the summer, and it was a special treat for me to bring home books every August that I couldn’t buy in the States. Additionally, my dad would order me Irish-published books from a catalogue one or two times a year (I thought this very cool). Though many of these books became favorites as well, they’re never part of the conversation when reminiscing about old literary friends, as no one had even heard of most of the authors, let alone individual titles.

I had completely forgotten about all of this until my friend, who I should mention now is from Ireland as well, started gushing over my bookshelf. It seems that there was a commonality in the books Irish children read amongst themselves, too! “Your shelf almost exactly matches mine at home!” My friend has been in America for several years now and has surely not had anyone to talk about her favorite characters with for some time. It was a fun trip down memory lane for the both of us, and I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I’d thought of some of those titles.

While I’m sure the readers of this blog have all grown up in different eras, I’d love to know what some of your favorites were as a kid—what characters you wanted to befriend and what stories you read over and over. Unlike Froot by the Foot and Don’t Wake Daddy, I bet there’s a lot more to talk about here.

*That was definitely a Berenstein Bears book, though.