books

A Brief Hello With Karl Ove Knausgård

P hoto credit:  WaterstonesTCR

Photo credit: WaterstonesTCR

By Conor White-Andrews

It’s late August, almost September, and over London the sky is a silently shifting collage of whites and grey. It’s still the summer, technically, but the weather outside his window—heavy grey, gentle rain, harsh yellow lights of offices and red tips of cranes burning against the gloom—suggests a changing of the seasons, perhaps a damp fading back into the autumn dark.

Buttoning up his plain white shirt, the man watches the rain. The hotel he’s staying in is in a nice part of town. He could see that when he arrived, having lived in the city before—in neighbourhoods bearing little resemblance to the one he’s in now—but the room is still dingy, basic nonetheless. There’s still a need for both the lamp beside the bed and lamp on the desk, where a plastic white kettle sits alongside red sachets of instant coffee and tea with two white mugs, to be constantly switched on in order to sufficiently light the room.

Adjoining the suite is a small balcony, shielded from the rain by the small identical balcony above, and now he collects the blue carton of cigarettes from the bedside table, the table with the lamp, and lets himself outside. On the balcony it’s warmer than he’d expected—the air thick, humid, heavy—and the man is reminded, again, of the strange turning of the seasons, the gradual then sudden retreat to darkness. But it doesn’t bother him, this fading, as he smokes a cigarette on the small balcony adjoining the room. That’s because it’s merely part of the cycle—an essential element; something he has addressed in his latest book, which he will be discussing later, in a bookshop somewhere in the city. He observes the rain as he would the dust, the grass, and the sun on a dry summer's day.

On the street directly below, a line of traffic—black cabs, red buses, everyday vehicles functioning as Ubers—shuffles forward at a pace too slow to properly distinguish, a series of red brake lights stretching on out of sight. Exhaling, the man drops the cigarette butt from his fingers. Inside, he makes another coffee, his third already that morning, and then checks his phone; his wife, Linda, has not called back. He will call her again soon. His watch shows 9:45, not even 10 o’clock, and he has hours to kill.

In a dingy hotel room lit by two yellow lamps, he has hours to kill. He fingers the metal lighter in his pocket, thinks about smoking another cigarette. He doesn’t though, and instead sits down at the desk. He drinks the last of his coffee—soon, he will want another—before pushing back the screen of his laptop and turning it on. He yawns as the machine blinks into life. His latest project—what it is, precisely, he isn’t quite sure—is saved as a folder on his desktop. He taps at it quickly, twice. The words that appear before him, black against white, form sentences, might even make sense, but the man doesn’t yet know what they mean. That will come later. But in his hotel room, the one in the nice part of town, he has hours to kill, and now it’s important to work. He clicks at the white plastic kettle, and in seconds it begins to scream.

I don’t know Karl Ove Knausgård, and it alarms me that I think I might. As anybody who has even partially read his epic series My Struggle will appreciate, the idea—the mental image—one forms of Knausgård is uncomfortably strong, and arrives in unflinchingly graphic detail. What makes it all the more interesting, however, is that, despite the project being almost directly autobiographical—and heavily marketed as such—as the confession of the century, its autobiographical nature is perhaps its least interesting facet.

Because of a misguided attempt at marginally cutting costs, I was late to the conversation Knausgård was having at the Waterstones on Tottenham Court Road, London, with an American literary agent. The event started at 7 p.m., and I didn’t arrive until 7:40. I took a seat at the very back, sweating and struggling to control my breathing after sprinting wildly from the station. I looked around and there was Knausgård, sitting on a stool at the front. He was smaller than I’d imagined, maybe, but still fundamentally the man I had watched in YouTube videos and speaking in the same thoughtful, considered voice. He was talking about Madame Bovary, gesturing with his hands. He said that Madame Bovary is the definitive novel, that in it Flaubert had captured the very essence of our reality, its textures, and offered it back in the form of words. He said that he had read Flaubert’s letters, and that what fascinated him was how Flaubert engaged equally in every aspect of his existence, how he did not discriminate. Knausgård spoke a little more about eating, shitting, shaving, and the multitudes of everyday life. He did not discriminate.

The talk ended 10 minutes after I arrived. At that point, there were to be questions from the audience, and I was able to ask the second question. There was a pause as the microphone was brought over. Stuttering, I asked Knausgård about structure. I asked him about how he deals with structure, when the books feel so much like an outpouring of strong, visceral emotion. I felt my skin burn as he grappled with my words, possibly wondering how to deal with a stupid question. Then Knausgård, looking at me from his stool at the front, said, hesitantly, that it’s not something he particularly worries about. He said that, as younger writer, he was crushingly aware of writing as a type of performance. He said that for years he wrote with painstaking intent, with a pose, until, one day, it became something else. He likened to it to rehearsing, and told me to keep writing, furiously, until the transition from the internal to the external becomes second nature. In A Death in the Family, he writes, “Writing is about drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows. That is what writing is about.”

After the event had finished, Knausgård was signing copies of his latest book, translated into English, Autumn. I bought a beer, a Brooklyn Lager, and waited in line. Standing there, I watched as the various people went up and had their books signed. A number of them took photos and selfies with Knausgård, and I thought that he looked uncomfortable; though I am not sure whether this is because I have read his books and feel like I might know him, or because he actually looked uncomfortable. We chatted briefly when my turn came. He was friendly, and wrote, “Keep going!” at the front of my copy. It was surreal, standing before a stranger about whom you know intimate, personal details. I wondered about Linda, his wife, and about how the kids are. I wanted to ask about life on the farm.

But, again, I don’t know Knausgård, and to approach it in this way, I think, is to fundamentally miss the point. He’s a writer’s writer, and his is an oeuvre that engages constantly with the idea, the notion of literature, of writing itself. It’s imperative, it suggests, to look not at the artist, but at the art; at that which cannot be expressed in words being expressed in words. It’s adding form to something amorphous in the shape of sentences, capturing an essence, something magnified by the fact that most of us read his work as translation. His books, through their very creation, subvert our notions of what the form is, and how we engage with it. They are a testament to the power of literature—to its perpetual evolution—and to language as a whole. As Knausgård says, we must keep going.

The Writer’s Bone Essays Archive

Remembering Carrie Fisher

Photo courtesy of  Star Wars' Facebook page

Photo courtesy of Star Wars' Facebook page

By Sean Tuohy

Last year, Writer’s Bone attempted to feature Carrie Fisher in a 30-minute phone interview regarding her career as a script doctor and novelist. Unfortunately, the interview never happened, and we're saddened that we'll never get to hear more of Fisher's riveting, and often self-deprecating, stories.

On Dec. 27, the world lost a great actress, writer, and mental health advocate. Fisher’s lightning-fast wit, paired with her self-loathing brand of humor, charmed audiences, and she brightened a movie screen with just her presence. 

In between acting, Fisher became a sought after screenwriter in Hollywood and a beloved novelist. As blunt and honest as she was in person, Fisher was more so on the page. Her books, The Princess Diarist, Wishful Drinking, and Postcards From The Edge, were all honest and upfront about her abuse issues, her stalled acting career, and being an icon in the nerd community (and, let's face it, the galaxy at large).

When a script needed work, Fisher was often called in to save the day. She helped production on many films, including “My Girl 2,” “Coyote Ugly,” “Outbreak,” and “Lethal Weapon 3.” She also adapted Postcards From The Edge into a film starring Meryl Streep and directed by Mike Nichols.

Fisher could have easily skated by on her Hollywood pedigree (she’s the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher) and her iconic role as Princess Leia. However, she evolved into much more, which is why social media has been flooded with heartfelt grief.

Carrie Fisher was a writer, an advocate, and a role model, but, most importantly, she was herself. Always.

May the force be with you, Princess. You will be missed. 

To Live And Write In L.A.: Chasing the Sunset

Photo credit:  David Marland

Photo credit: David Marland

By Hassel Velasco

Currently Working On: Untitled Beatles Project
Currently Listening To: “E. Von Dahl Killed The Locals,” The Matches
Currently Reading: Diary Of An Oxygen Thief, Anonymous

Chasing the Sunset

After a week away, I'm back writing another piece for this essay series. I had written seven different entries last week but was unhappy with the results. So I did what any responsible writer does. I erased all of them, drank a couple more pints of Guinness, procrastinated, and went back to sleep.

This past Saturday, I attended a concert by a band I had shrugged off 10 years prior. Back then I was a 20-year-old kid who hadn't missed a Vans Warped Tour since 2004. I remember hearing about a band called The Matches, a pop-punk band from the Bay Area. I remember listening to their first album and not thinking much of it. In retrospect, I feel I crossed off a lot of bands back then just based on what would make me look cooler. So anything my friends weren't into, I wasn't into by association.

Saturday started of like your normal Saturday in L.A. A 7 a.m. call time for a Web series I got cast in. One of my favorite things about working on a set is watching people walk around and, ultimately, watch their entire life stop in order to get a better look at what's going on. People will slow their cars down to a crawl just to get a glimpse of what's being filmed. It's surprising to me that people are not used to it in the film capital of the world. Considering the episode being filmed was mainly centered on a big fight, the cast kicked ass and we finished a couple of hours early.

Later that night, I stopped by a bar called The Monty, and was immediately drawn in by the giant buffalo head in the wall. I proceeded to have a couple of pints before heading into the concert hall. (Note to music lovers: check out a band called Sharp Shock, a great three-piece punk band reminiscent of late ‘70's punk rock.)

The Matches' performance that evening left a resounding, "Why the fuck did you not listen to them before?" thought in my head. I found myself questioning the choices I made 10 years ago. What other things did I pass on that might be worth a second glance? Are anchovies really a good thing on pizza? (Update: they are still disgusting.) How about books? Maybe Atlas Shrugged isn't that bad. (Update: it's fucking terrible. Read the first five pages, gave up, and almost made my best Bradley Cooper “Silver Linings” impression by throwing the book through my fucking window.) How about the beach? I hated the beach a decade ago. (Update: with the right company, it isn't so bad.)

On Monday, I decided I wanted to watch the sun set into the Pacific. Although I've been in California for three years, I've never witnessed the sun tuck itself into the ocean. Accompanied by a good contender for best human, I decided to go to El Matador State Beach and wait for the sunset. It's taken me 30 years to realize how much I love reading a book on the beach, something I would have definitely would have shunned years ago.

We very quickly realized we had an issue. El Matador State Beach faces slightly southwest. The sun was setting a bit north of where we were, so with a half hour to go, we decided to get in the car and find a spot where the sun would potentially bathe in the frigid Pacific waters. We began driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway. As we drove around the mountains that hugged the shoreline, we realized we were getting closer. I was getting excited, things that seemed stupid, dumb, not worth my time as a younger men, were all things I enjoyed doing now. I even had an idea for a book: Chasing the Sunset. (Editor’s note: Copyright protection does not extend to titles, so you’re good!)

Around the next mountain, we found the sun and its final, daily descent. One more thing to knock off the to-do list!  Five minutes to sunset, here we go, just one more turn.

Wait, is that a naval base?

Is the sun setting on top of it?

Who puts a naval base way out here?!

Where did the ocean go???!!!

Son of a bi…

Essays Archive

To Live And Write In L.A.: A Day In The Life

By Hassel Velasco

Currently Working On: Untitled Beatles Project
Currently Listening to: The Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Currently Reading: The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970, Mark Lewisohn

A Day In The Life

Recently, I was asked what my favorite Beatles song was. I didn't have an answer. I couldn't even narrow it down. Moments later, I was asked what my favorite Beatles album was and I had an even bigger issue picking just one. I did what any sane person would do. I created a Beatles playlist that ended up being about 118 tracks long. I had to find out which song out of the 200-plus songs The Beatles ever recorded was my favorite. I had to pick an album. It was no longer acceptable to answer these questions with an "I don't know" or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

So I took the long weekend to drive to some of my favorite Los Angeles spots and try to figure out this conundrum like any of the other Silver Lake/Los Feliz-inhabiting hipster hopefuls.

I started on Sunday because Saturday was taken up by work (bleh). I began with what I consider my least favorite Beatles album, “Yellow Submarine,” on my way to Iliad bookshop in North Hollywood. It's ironic that it’s my least favorite considering I have a yellow submarine tattooed on my right forearm, but hidden in this album is one of my favorite songs. See the list below.

Next, I took the short drive over to Republic Of Pie, a pie/coffee shop in North Hollywood. Here I sat and listened to some of the earlier Beatles albums (“Please Please Me,” “With The Beatles,” “A Hard Day's Night,” “Beatles for Sale,” “Rubber Soul,” “Help”) while enjoying the most bomb-ass slice of banana cream pie. The covers recorded by The Beatles in their earlier records, like the banana cream pie, are also bomb-ass. The songs are great time capsules for the music that influenced the quartet. Full disclosure, I listened to as much of these albums as I could because I couldn't stay at a pie place for long without consuming massive amounts of pie, which would lead to potential heart failure. Moving on.

The drive to The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles, like any drive in the city, featured long and time-consuming traffic measuring more than 10 miles. It’s worth it because the bookstore is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. I can easily spend an entire day lost in its maze of books. Although parking is limited to whatever you can find in the area, it’s by far the best book destination in the city. (Pro tip: use the restroom before you get here. There is no restroom in the store, and public restrooms in Downtown Los Angeles are pretty much non-existent.)

I listened to the entirety of “The White Album” while book browsing. It's unfair to compare the earlier Beatles records with the band's later work. As revolutionary as The Beatles early records were, the foursome become a completely different monster once they halted all touring. “The White Album” is a testament to The Beatles extensible, but different, musical talents, and thus the beginning of the end.

I finished Sunday night with a drink at a bar called The Griffin in Los Feliz. A mythical venue, The Griffin was one of the first bars I visited when I moved out here. You can frequently see it as the exterior shot of the bar the characters of “New Girl” frequent. It's on the way to this bar that I came to the realization that “Let It Be” may possibly be my least favorite album. I drove home that night listening to “Revolver,” which is, in my opinion, the turning point in the band’s recording process.

On Monday, I decided to frequent my usual spots. After some errands in the Northridge area of the Valley, I drove to The Americana, a shopping center with my favorite Barnes and Noble. I began listening to “Abbey Road” on my way there and continued once I was nestled into a corner of the third-floor patio. I think “Abbey Road” is to The Beatles what Quentin Tarantino believes “Inglorious Basterds” to be...a masterpiece. How George Martin managed to keep John and Paul from killing each other is beyond me, but the result is an album that I can listen to from beginning to end without skipping a single song.

Finally, I ended my Monday night by having my traditional dinner of two Guinness pints at a bar in Van Nuys called Ireland 32's. It’s an Irish dive bar with live music almost every night. After finishing “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” it was time to narrow things down. Working on this Beatles project has me focused on the pre-“Revolver” Beatles, so I haven't ventured out passed that album in quite some time. After listening to and evaluating the music as well as certain go-to spots around Los Angeles, I find myself associating these albums to these particular spots. I also painfully managed to narrow down that playlist to 20 songs.

Where You Once Belonged

Iliad Bookshop = “Yellow Submarine”

  • Underrated, filled with a couple of good surprises.

Republic Of Pie = Pre-“Revolver” Albums

  • Very good, can't have enough, but too much can potentially lead to a heart condition.

The Last Book Store = “The White Album”

  • A maze of talent and individuality you can get lost in. Can't take a bathroom break in-between.

The Griffin = “Revolver”

  • A turning point; a familiar, yet refreshing, take.

The Americana = “Abbey Road”

  • Lots of flashing lights, so much going on, but you can't help but get lost in its melody and charm.

Ireland's 32 = “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”

  • I get by with a little help from my friends. (Guinness, Jameson, etc)

Top 20 Favorite Beatles Songs

  • “I Saw Her Standing There”
  • “Tomorrow Never Knows”
  • “Hey Bulldog”
  • “Here Comes The Sun”
  • “Don't Pass Me By”
  • “The Ballad Of John And Yoko”
  • “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”
  • “I Want You (She's So Heavy)”
  • “Something”
  • “I've Just Seen A Face”
  • “Because”
  • “Within You, Without You”
  • “Paperback Writer”
  • “Rollover Beethoven”
  • “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”
  • “I Should Have Known Better”
  • “Helter Skelter”
  • “Dear Prudence”
  • “Strawberry Fields Forever”
  • “Blackbird”

Top 3 Albums

  • “Abbey Road”
  • “The White Album”
  • “Revolver”

Essays Archive

5 Tips For Conquering Your Summer Reading List

A few books on Writer's Bone's summer reading list.

A few books on Writer's Bone's summer reading list.

By Rob Hilferty

Summer is right around the corner and that means most people have a lot more time on their hands. School is out, the days get longer. Most people use the summer as an excuse to travel, go outside, or work on some long forgotten projects. You know, like that book you've been meaning to get around to since Christmas. Or that stack of books you bought last year that you've totally been meaning to get around to once things finally settled down at the new apartment.

Yeah, assuming that you're not just skimming the bolded text like with all numbered lists, you know you're here because you probably need help with the whole reading list thing. I mean, really, what else are you going to for the summer, go outside? Do you know how fucking hot is it out there?

1. Break Your List Into Chunks to Make it Seem Less Daunting

First things first. You want to sit down and actually compile a list of all the things you want to read. Now this may seem fairly straightforward, but you can't just go balls deep on the first thrust. You've got to find and develop a rhythm that's sustainable for at least three months. Look at the list of books you have already. Even with all that Vitamin D from the summer sun, do you really think you're going to be able to read Infinite JestGravity's Rainbow,  and Finnegan's Wake all in a row without wanting to slit your wrists?

Be realistic and spread your books out. Toss in some light fantasy or pulp novels in between the heavier literature to keep you reading consistently. Depending on how ambitious your stack is, separating it into four to six book chunks with good mix of light and heavy reading will drastically reduce your chances of burning out within the first few weeks. And speaking of burn out...

2. Don't Be Afraid to Put a Book Down

Sometimes you really think you're going to like a book only to discover it sucks. Maybe the author pulled a bait and switch on you when you picked up a book about salt only to discover it's actually about cod, maybe reading Mysterious Skin when you're going through a personal crisis wasn't the best idea, or maybe you just really hate this fucking book you're reading right now for no reason.

Hey, it's cool. Put the book down and try something else. You can always go back and revisit that book but for the time being that book, for whatever reason just wasn't the book for you. Put the book down, walk away, and move on.

Cormac McCarthy.     This guy.    This fucking guy.

Cormac McCarthy. 

This guy.

This fucking guy.

What you don't want to do is grit your teeth and push through a shitty book just because it's on your list. Now that's not to say that you shouldn't push through a challenging book that you like, but sometimes those types of books can kill your reading habit. It took me three tries to get through Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian before I finally cracked it. Was it an excellent read? Absolutely. Was it worth my time and intellectual pursuit? Hell yes. Would I recommend it to everyone? Fuck no. The first two times I tried reading Blood Meridian were so demoralizing I actually stopped reading for a month or two afterwards because I felt so guilty about not finishing a book I was really interested in. Admittedly, the book is designed to be arduous for a reason, but not having anything to follow up with just killed my spirit. Had I just dropped the book and come back later I probably would've been able to read it a lot sooner than I ended up doing. However, the guilt was too strong to let me enjoy anything else. If we all followed Kenny Roger's sage advice about knowing when to fold ‘em, it would truly be a better world.

3. Read a Book You Wouldn't Normally Read

Now you're probably questioning this one because you're skeptical about finishing books you're actually interested in but seriously this one works. If you're really into a story driven fantasy novels, maybe try a historically accurate biography. Reading the same types of books can start to feel stale after a while, even when you really like them.

Part of the magic of reading is in discovering something wondrous about something you'd never thought to care about before. Books should inspire and educate people about how the world is, was, and can be. Good books should get you interested in something through compelling story telling and prose. Anyone whose ever read an Erik Larson book knows that he's a storyteller just as much as he's an historian. The point is, go read something different. Go learn something highly technical or read something bafflingly fantastic. Worse comes to worst you can always drop it and go back to your safety zone.

4. Find Someone You Can Talk to About Books

Whether it's a book club, a good friend, or an online forum, finding someone to talk about the totally awesome book you just read is exciting. When you're able to discuss books, especially particularly difficult and layered books, everything just feels better. Maybe you missed some big key piece in the novel that's been making you hate it, or perhaps you can just share in the thrill of talking about something brilliant.

Didn't have a book buddy.

Didn't have a book buddy.

Writing is an art, and despite what some people would say, it's an extremely social activity. I can't tell you how many times I've been gushing about a book when someone else completely unexpected joins in and we get to share a moment. Books are shared experiences, on a personal and societal level. It is our shared language and experiences that truly connects us as a people and books are merely an extension of that connection. Find someone who shares the same enthusiasm or loathing for a particular book and you'll not only want to read more but you may end up hating the human race a little less too.

5. Fucking Relax, They're Just Books

Let's be real here guys. I love books and reading. I mean enough that I'd like to involve them into a future career, but in all honesty some people take this shit way too seriously. Now I know I just spent a couple paragraphs waxing rhapsodic about universal connectivity of a good book, but not every book is like that. Sometimes a book is just a book. Sometimes a good story doesn't go beyond the boundaries of the page, but that doesn't mean they're worthless for not attempting to achieve more.

Just don't tell this guy.

Just don't tell this guy.

Certainly books have near infinite potential for how they can evoke, and invoke emotions but that's not the goal of every author. Sometimes books educate and illuminate, often times they merely entertain and that's more than okay. Don't be afraid or intimidated of something you're reading. Go at your own pace and forget about the number of books read and instead focus on the quality of the experience. If you rush through your list just to do it then you're missing out on a major part of the reading experience.

Overall, reading should be an enjoyable experience (or uncomfortable depending on what you're reading) and if you're not enjoying yourself then maybe it's time to take a long hard look at yourself and figure out why. Maybe try reading in the sun or some shit? I don't know.

Rob Hilferty's Summer Reading List 
Group A: 
  • This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
  • The Redemption Engine by James Sutter
  • The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek
  • King of Chaos by Dave Gross 
Group B: 
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • The Gunslinger by Stephen King
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell 
Group C: 
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev
  • No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
  • American Pastoral by Phillip Roth 

For more essays, check out our full archive

Remembering Poet, Author, and Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou    1928-2014

Maya Angelou

1928-2014

By Sean Tuohy

“Love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that it allows me to survive, and better than that, to thrive with passion, compassion, and style.”

In lieu of our regularly scheduled "Badass Writer of the Week," we are honoring renowned poet, author, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou as our “Heroic Writer of the Week.” Angelou died Wednesday and America lost one of the most inspiring and original voices of the 20th century.

Through her writing, Angelou brought a voice to the voiceless and shed light on the plight of African-American women in the United States. Angelou was a fighter for peace and understanding in the world. Although I was most familiar with Angelou from her 1969 autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” I always knew and respected her name and what her work represented.

"I want to write so well that a person is 30 or 40 pages in a book of mine...before she realizes she's reading.”
Angelou being awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

Angelou being awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

Marguerite Annie Johnson was born April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Mo. Her nickname was given to her by her older brother who often call his sister “my” or “mine.”

Her early years were extremely difficult because she was a young black woman growing up in Jim Crow’s South. When she was 7 years old, her mother’s boyfriend raped her, and then he was killed by an angry mob. Believing that her words had killed the man, Angelou refused to speak for many years and began writing.

Despite a rough start, Angelou didn't waste time getting her life on track. She studied dance in San Francisco, but dropped out at 14. At 16 years old, she became the first female street car driver. She returned to high school when she turned 17, and received her diploma. Weeks later she gave birth to a son.

As a single mother, Angelou worked as a waitress, but was constantly developing herself as an artist. By the mid-1950s she toured Europe as a singer and dancer and released her first album. Despite never going to college Angelou was called “doctor” by most people and she spoke six languages.

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass.”
All writers should wear this megawatt smile.

All writers should wear this megawatt smile.

Angelou was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X and built a strong bond with talk show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who was deeply inspired by the author. In 1993, she read at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, something an author had not done since Robert Frost in 1961. Angelou also taught at universities and gave speeches the world over.

Throughout her career as an artist Angelou always tried to deliver the same message: love. She believe deeply that love had the power to change so much in this world and make it a better place for all of us. Her name will always stand out in American culture, and it will always be spoken with the utmost respect and love.

Rest in Peace, Ms. Angelou.

“Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.”

For more essays, check out our full archive

How My Older Brother Made Me A Lifelong Reader

Readers with wheels.     My older brother Tom and I following the Hartford Half Marathon in 2010.

Readers with wheels. My older brother Tom and I following the Hartford Half Marathon in 2010.

By Daniel Ford

My older brother Tom is the smartest person I know.

(Okay, his wife is probably even smarter, but I’ve known Tom the longest, so he wins).

I loved the fact that he was smart when I was growing up. It made me want to be smart. It made me want to read a book at the breakfast table like he did every morning. His example made me want to do my homework right when I got home and strive to do the best I could do in school.

I remember walking into his room as a kid—always when he was out of the house because I was too afraid to ask him to hang out—and marvel at all the cool stuff he had. His Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs baseball figurines, NFL gridiron comforter, his original Nintendo. It was a nerd nirvana!

More importantly, Tom always had a ton of books arranged beautifully on his bookshelf. I didn’t steal them back then because I was still reading illustrated versions of Robin Hood and Treasure IslandThe Boxcar Children, and any "Star Wars" novel I could get my hands on. I loved knowing his weightier books were there and he had either read them or was planning on reading them. I would go back to my own room and rearrange my less impressive array of titles on my bookshelf so that each shelf started with the tallest book and ended with the shortest, just like my older brother did.

Thanks to my older brother, this is what my life looks like.

Thanks to my older brother, this is what my life looks like.

I read everything back then, but I hadn’t had the moment. You know the moment I’m talking about. It's the moment when someone puts a book in your hands and it hits your mind like a thunderbolt and completely changes the direction of your life.

Tom put several books in my hands one Christmas and I’ve haven’t been the same since. He wordlessly handed me a superbly wrapped present. The box was heavy. Since I was only reading thin paperbacks at that point, I didn’t know that meant it could only contain one thing. Books. Heavy, beautiful books.

Inside the box were three books that transformed me from a reader to a readerTo Kill a Mockingbird1984, and John Irving’s The World According to Garp.

I devoured the first two in short order. My young mind was blown that those two masterpieces came out of someone’s pen. People actually wrote like this? You mean there was more to literature than just pulpy fiction and sci-fi adventures?

Even if I had been a stronger reader at that point, nothing would have prepared me for the opening line to Irving’s classic novel:

“Garp’s mother, Jenny Fields, was arrested in Boston in 1942 for wounding a man in a movie theater.”

Whoa. 

Heavy stuff for a kid who was just trying to survive middle school!

When Tom went to college, I spent a lot of time raiding his bookshelf (and his music collection). He had already made the jump to American history tomes that were way over my head at the time, but which I attempted to plow through all the same. I’m pretty sure I still have his copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States that I stole back in high school (and finally finished as a college sophomore). He moved out after graduating and took all his books with him, but the bookshelf stayed behind. I relentlessly set out to fill it after immediately moving into his old room.

Me holding said copy of A People's History of the United States   on a trip to Yankee Stadium.

Me holding said copy of A People's History of the United States on a trip to Yankee Stadium.

I had some help thanks to my high school English teacher Pamela Hayward, who consistently handed me books like Crazy in AlabamaSnow Falling on Cedars, and As I Lay Dying, in addition to the required reading for AP English. But the constant was my older brother. Every Christmas, there would be more books. Or gift cards with recommendations attached. Or a loan from his precious collection.

Now, our bookcases are essentially lending libraries between the two of us. He has books on his shelf that I’ve loaned him without having read them, and vice versa. He likes to kid and say that a book has to be on his shelf for 10 years before he reads it (except for Eric Foner’s Reconstruction, which he will never read). If I can’t find a book in my collection, odds are he has it. Some of the best moments of our bonding weekends are spent talking about all the books we have yet to read in front of one of his bookcases (I usually end up taking one or two home with me every time).

His early example also inspires me to buy books for his three kids—as well as all my other nieces and nephews—for birthdays and Christmas. Toys are fleeting and end up as yard sale fodder. Books are a gateway to creativity, curiosity, and fun! I’ll be getting them books even when they think I’m the lame uncle who gives books (including my own someday…don’t judge me) as gifts, because that’s what I learned from my older brother. It has the added bonus of allowing me to rediscover titles from my youth and keep current with today’s children’s literature.

My nephew Jack (top photo)   and my niece Katie giving me hope for future readers.

My nephew Jack (top photo) and my niece Katie giving me hope for future readers.

Tom is now a principal at an elementary school in Connecticut, where he’s inspiring a new generation of young minds.

I follow his Twitter account and couldn’t be prouder when I see something like:

Dr. Veronesi read to both kindergarten classes this morning for Read Across America Day! @KathyVeronesi#rsd13ctpic.twitter.com/ehKB3lFLSI
— Thomas D. Ford (@TFord_LymanCT) February 28, 2014

I sleep well knowing the next generation of readers is in good hands.

For more essays, check out our full archive

Why I Wanted To Be A Writer: Dave Pezza

This is the debut of a series featuring how all of us at Writer's Bone got our starts. Look for other tales from the crew in the near future.

I look nothing like David Foster Wallace.

I look nothing like David Foster Wallace.

By Dave Pezza

At one point in college I realized that writing was something I thoroughly enjoyed, and, quite frankly, I was good at it.

That realization mixed with the remarkable idea that writing is timeless. When you write your mind enters a timeless medium. The fact that the late David Foster Wallace can still shares his thoughts with me in an intellectual and significant way through his words absolutely amazes me.

Ultimately, I wanted to be a writer because I want to converse with others today, five years from now, 100 years from now about my thoughts and ideas. Yes, it is selfish and self-centered in many ways. But ideas shape and reshape our entire world, and how can you get them to work if no one can see them?

If I Had to Choose A Favorite Book With A Gun to My Head:

Favorite Line From Something I've Written:

The second reason was Cindy’s looks. She was not beautiful or classically pretty, rather Cindy was attractive. She had the appropriate curves and tight skin that a twenty-something girl usually has. She had light red hair with few freckles to match, but a pair of emerald eyes Arthur never failed to make note of. She played lacrosse in high school and in college, so she retained much of her former athletic body. She kept her nails short and painted dark brown, changed her hair style every couple of months, and wore clothes that accentuated her toned legs and busty chest. She wore high heels every day and hiked her skirt up just enough to give her 5’3 frame all the legs and height she could muster. All of this was enough to turn the head of every cubicle working salesman who she passed; their cheap suit pants and tight white underwear getting tighter and hotter as her sweet flowery perfume saturated the corridor halls with a carpet bomb of aphrodisiac.”

For more essays, check out our full archive

Say No to E-Books: Matt’s Rebuttal

A debate has been raging at Writer’s Bone HQ for most of the day. Before you read about Matt tearing Dave a new one, check out his original post, as well as Dave’s original response and his rebuttal, and today’s installment of The Boneyard

Throughout the history of mankind, there has been an evolution in the world of writing and reading. In ancient Egypt, people used hieroglyphs. When people decided that it took absolutely forever to draw those intricate shapes and caricatures on the walls, they started writing things down on papyrus. Then, the printing press was born, and so on and so forth.

As time and technology moves forward, so does the way of the written word. But why? For simplicity’s sake. If not, we would all still be chiseling shit on walls and driving television producers for HGTV nuts (Can you imagine “Love It or List It?” viewers fighting among themselves as to which interior design was better based on the stories written on the walls?).

Does simple mean the best method to do something? Absolutely not. Look at Twitter. Twitter is a news editor’s dream come true. But when used mainly for personal use (Basically anyone under the age of 18 or a celebrity), it’s the most obnoxious form of media available. It’s mainly 140 characters that no one will ever, ever need in their lifetimes.

E-books make reading more readily available for those who want it, simply. Gone are the days of waiting three to five business days because the book that you were trying to buy at Borders (RIP) is sold out or no longer in stock. A click of the button allows you to have that book almost immediately, without any hassle.

Amazon saw an opportunity to adapt to a changing medium with a proper business model that would ultimately lead to success. Nowhere does Amazon dictate how much a writer should be paid based on their writing. If anything, getting rid of production costs and focusing your book to be online only can only help your profit margin, don’t you think? Besides, the difference between paid content and free content is a completely different animal. It’s like comparing lions and caterpillars. Or, some other weird set of animals that have nothing else in common.

And the idea that reading a paperback book at a library or book store makes you a better person is wrong in more ways than not. Reading a paperback book isn’t going to make you talk to the cute girl that sits next to you on the bus. If anything, you’re going to be ignored no matter what you’re holding because she’s a bit busy looking on her iPhone anyways.

Some books need to be in print. The classics clearly cannot be fully enjoyed on a tablet, and that’s not even negotiable. But to think that there is no place for e-readers at all because they make us seem like a self-absorbed douche is asinine.

Be sure to check out:

Say Yes to E-Books: Dave’s Rebuttal

A debate has been raging at Writer’s Bone HQ for most of the day. Before you read Dave’s evisceration of Matt, check out his original post, as well as Matt’s original response, and today’s installment of The Boneyard. Be sure to also read Matt’s rebuttal

The advent of the Internet has changed a great many things. Many people no longer go to busy and infuriating malls and retails stores. You can watch almost any movie or television shows right on your tiny little handheld screen. You don't have to get the messy ink of a newspaper on your fingers, and the newspaper refreshes every hour bring you new, pertinent, and factual updates.

Right? Maybe. Or maybe the Internet has just made things easier, not better. Maybe digital content is just simpler, not more progressive. Change doesn't mean progress, it never has. The Internet is here to stay, clearly. But it doesn't mean we need to switch everything over to digital; in fact, that's probably the most damaging thing we can do. In my upcoming post, I'll break down one of the very many reasons why converting our whole lives to the digital world is killing some aspects of our culture: vinyl. Don't roll your eyes, because vinyl is coming back and coming back huge. Why? More on that to come.

Most people spend a large amount of time on the Internet, reading and watching. What are they reading and watching? If you commute to work, the next time you board your bus or train or subway, look at how many people are "plugged" in. Examine them for a second. Examine the guy on his 20th (!) session of “Temple Run.” Eavesdrop on how many people one person is texting and emailing and "communicating" with at one time. Reading teaches you how to be alone, but at least you know you're alone, you're not tricking yourself into thinking your not just looking at a phone.

E-books didn’t kill print, greed killed print. Do you honestly think Amazon gives two shits about the spread of human written word? Or did they just dump all their money into something new and cheap? And the Kindle was born. How does all this bode for writers?!

Not well. Like everything else on the Internet, it's all quantity over quality. Let's pump out eight stories in five hours with partial information rather than waiting five hours to get the facts right and publish something coherent. What's talent when you have 100 amateurs who are willing to be paid nothing to do the job one professional writer could do? Don't be sold something you don't need. Don't acquiesce because it's easier. Convenience has never been the right answer, for anything. Ever. Seriously, look it up on Wikipedia...

Maybe dragging yourself to the mall is a good thing. Maybe it teaches you how to tolerate people who don't share your beliefs or manners. Maybe that's how you spend time with a friend or parent. Maybe the girl sitting next to you sees the book cover of your book and, dare I say, a conversations starts. What if that downtime you spend on your phone or tablet lets you think more about the outside world, about the women with a cane who could use a seat more than you, and about the girl crying on the phone in the seat behind you would might have a much better day if you just offered her the tissue in your backpack instead of continuing to "deny" pictures of girls on Tinder. Literature has always been about holding a mirror to the world. But it's hard to be critical when you convince yourself the reflection looks so damn good.

The "if you can't beat them, join them," mentality has always been a defeatist one, and always will be.

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Say Yes to E-Books: Don’t Hate the Screen, Hate the Publishers!

Earlier, Dave Pezza expressed his impassioned beliefs on why e-books are lame. Here’s Matt DiVenere’s response. Also check out today's installment of The Boneyard for more debate.  

Let me preface this entire rant by saying I was a print journalist. I actually went to school for print journalism despite the entire world telling me that I was an idiot to get into a field that was going to be extinct before I turned 30. Therefore, what I’m going to say may upset and confuse you.

The whole idea of “hating technology” is the reason that the print industry is in such a shit world at this point. Instead of embracing it, print lovers tried to give technology a big middle finger and hoped that it didn’t come back to bite them. Well, it has.

Let’s take e-books, for example. It’s no shock that people are starting to trend away from reading hard copies of books and instead going right to the electronic form of this media.

In fact, last year was the first year ever that the average adult spent more time online than watching television during a normal day. According to a poll taken by eMarketer.com, adults over the age of 18 years old spent over five hours a day. That’s compared to the four and a half hours spent watching television, as well as the hour and a half spent listening to the radio.

Want to know how much time is spent reading print? Thirty-two minutes.

The amount of time the average adult spends reading print media (newspapers, magazines) has been dropping by six minutes each year since 2010, while time spent in the digital world has increased over two hours in that same time frame.

Still not convinced? Well, eMarketer broke down what it means to be a digital viewer. Smartphone use currently sits at one hour and seven minutes while the use of a tablet averages one hour and three minutes. That’s still nearly double the print viewership.

One can argue that the only reason that people are online more is to play Fruit Ninja, or check out their Instagram accounts. Whatever the case may be, it is very clear that we are in a digital age and anyone who believes otherwise probably waits to hear breaking news stories from little kids holding up newspapers, screaming “Extra, Extra!” on street corners (And if you do, I have so many questions).

There are those who shoot down the idea of e-books just because of what they represent: progress. No more paper cuts, no more old-book smell, and no more weekend visits to the library.

I get it. Reading a paperback book is an experience in itself. However, a good book should be able to transport you into a different world no matter what you read it on. If your book isn’t doing that for you, maybe you need to rethink what you’re reading.

Be sure to check out: 

Say No to E-Books: For God’s Sake, Think of the Bookmarks!

Dave Pezza ignited a Writer’s Bone debate with this rant against the e-book. Be sure to read Matt DiVenere’s argument in favor of e-books after this! 

Okay, I've been putting this off for too long.

E-books. It's time to fuck e-books right up.

Let's first address the elephant in the room: Amazon. Amazon has cornered the e-book business, buying up rights to classics. What worries me about this is a Nazi-era hording of texts by one company. Who knows what can happen to those rights now. Obviously, Amazon isn't burning books—in fact its publishing books in what it would have us believe is a medium more conducive to widespread readership. However, it still makes me shutter like the scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” where Indy dies inside as Germans torch books at a Hitler rally.

I suppose my more logical problem with e-readers and e-books is based in an American cultural plague of convenience. E-books don't add to the reading experience. Digital text on a screen adds no more to the experience that having a physical book in your hand. In fact, it diminishes it. You are unable to annotated or underline text without becoming aggravated with the tiny or nonexistent keyboard.

Bookmarks would be non-existent! If you are a true reader, bookmarks mean the world to you. They do for me. My current bookmark is thin piece of wood that has been smoothed and polished from the Monticello gift shop. "I cannot live without books" has been engraved into the wood! It's not like film, where visual effects have become better and the physical limits of film tape can be corrected by digital means. An e-reader simply simulates a book for the asinine convenience of being able to have a hundred books at your fingertips, which defeats the purpose of reading, in my opinion.

Read Jonathan Franzen's essay "Reader in Exile" from his essay collection How to Be Alone (an interesting book he wrote around the turn of the century that ended up forecasting everything that would occur culturally in the U.S. in the following 10 years). Franzen's thesis is that reading teaches how you how to be alone. It forces you to be comfortable with yourself alone in a room with just a book. I can't see how that is possibly with an e-book, especially with Wi-Fi, hundreds of applications, and all that poppy-cock (so glad I got to use that word).

And the carbon footprint argument is bullshit. Granted, print books should be more readily recycled, and cotton paper needs to drum up a better following, but what is the carbon footprint for making a Kindle? All that plastic, metal, and whatnot? The Kindle is manufactured in China in a factory I'm sure that pumps more pollution into the Chinese air.

I can hear it now: "Yeah, but you only buy one, and that's it." What about the Kindle Fire or whatever those marketing sell-outs call the second, third, and fourth generation Kindle models? What about Apple constantly upgrading its software, causing old models to be unable to operate with all the updated bells and whistles? Is all this worth the extreme convenience of being able to carry 100 books instead of one? All I know is that I can only read one word, in one sentence, in one paragraph, in one chapter, in one book at a time.

But maybe I'm just old fashion.

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