Books & novels & stories, oh my!, Ramblings, Randoms

{A Literary Love Letter} The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson

We need to talk about this book and its author. I am still not over this book and this review is more like a love letter to its magnificence than anything. Seriously, it’s that good.

As a classicist at heart, discovering new favorites is a rare occurrence. Despite having plunged into the sometimes murky and cliche-infested waters of YA fiction in recent years, I am still a die-hard lover of literary fiction and authors whose works are both timeless and outstanding. Enter, Stage Right, Mr. Denis Johnson, an American author and playwright with a slew of critically acclaimed books, who sadly passed away in May of last year. I hadn’t heard of Denis Johnson before last month, mainly due to the fact that I suck at crawling out from underneath my literary rock (what is wrong with me?!). I love so many legendary American writers, Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Capote, etc., but it’s rare for me to step outside of my 20th century bubble when it comes to great literature. Denis Johnson was introduced to me through a fellow classics aficionado on Bookstagram, and after hearing about the power and beauty of this man’s words, I knew I had to read something of his.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is a short story collection (2018), his first since the success that was Jesus’ Son (1992), and upon opening that first page, I had no idea that I was about to fall in love. It is commonly known that I am a Joycean, i.e. an obsessive fan of James Joyce, and that obsession makes me judge literary fiction with a wry and cynical approach, often comparing other authors to my beloved James. I know, I know; it’s not fair to compare different styles and genres to a single specific one that I happen to love with the fervor of a religious zealot, but it’s more like: “Did they make me feel the same way his works did? Did they make me fall in love with their words, characters, and stories? Did they make me want to read this again and again, just to relive certain moments?”

That hasn’t happened in nearly a decade, since I discovered James Joyce 11 years ago. But it happened this month when I read this book. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden had me hooked from the first line and with every page, Johnson sunk that hook deeper and deeper into my gut. I laughed, I cried, I smiled, I was confused, surprised, elated, contented, bereft, heartbroken. I was an emotional mess throughout this book. With a style that is wholly unique, Johnson manages to hold your mind, heart, and soul hostage with his words. Whether it’s the story of an addict trying to stay sane while he’s in rehab, of a poet who is weirdly obsessed with Elvis conspiracies, or of a man questioning his life as he trudges through it day by day; it is written with such a masterful hand that you can’t help but continue reading.

His writing style itself is simple yet nuanced, raw yet beautiful, direct yet haunting. There is a slight tinge of stream-of-consciousness, which I absolutely adored (because, duh Joyce), and yet everything melded together so perfectly that it was like watching one wave curl into another and another, until you were lost in his ocean of words. The stories themselves deal with so many themes, such as death, guilt, loss, the mysteries of the universe itself manifesting themselves in a single life. It’s as if every character leaps out of the page, sits down beside you, and tells you their story. If you asked me to pick a favorite, I couldn’t. Each story reads like a short novel, full of purpose and meaning, not once dropping the ball on character development, plot execution, or immaculate writing. With moments that reminded me of Faulkner, others that reminded me of Joyce, I realized halfway through the first story that this writer was a master of storytelling. I had to force myself to put this down to do basic human things like eat and sleep. I was enthralled and still am.

Without a doubt, I’ll be buying the rest of Johnson’s bibliography, because this book was incredible. If you are a fan of literary fiction or simply a fan of great writing in general, then I would wholeheartedly recommend this book. In other words, please read this book. It is amazing. If I could give it 5 million stars, I would, but I’ll settle for 5 stars and I could continue gushing about it for the next ten years, but you get the picture. I’m so grateful to have discovered this author’s voice, albeit a little late, but he just scored a place in my top five favorite authors list. Better late than never, amirite? Also, I just ordered myself a copy of another Johnson masterpiece. As always, happy reading!

 

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Ramblings, Randoms

The Classics: Where Do I even Start?

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Up until a couple of years ago, I only read classic books, which I consider an umbrella term for anything published before the 21st Century. Aside from the Harry Potter series and a few others, I thought that modern literature paled in comparison to classic literature. But in the past couple of years, thanks to many bookish friends and the Bookstagram community, I’ve discovered so many modern-day authors that I love. So, what is the point of a post about classics, you ask?

Well, dear reader, the point is very simple. Did you ever think, “Oh, I’d love to read that classic, but it looks so intimidating!” or “I’ve heard about that classic, but what if it’s boring?” If the answer is yes (or maybe), then there is the point of this post. So many readers tend to avoid the classics due to thoughts like this or due to the fact that they were forced to read some of the more famous (and difficult) classics in school. As someone who loves the classics, it breaks my heart to see fellow bibliophiles veer away from the books that paved the way for some of our modern favorites. Take The Hobbit, for example. If you’ve seen the three movies, but haven’t read the books, you might assume that it’s a monster of a book, since the movies add up to 462 minutes. Well, the original book, published in 1937, is only 366 pages long, which is about as long as any YA fantasy you might see on a bookshelf today.

So, for all my fellow bookworms who want to try a classic but have no idea where to start, I thought it would be fun to throw out some recommendations. If you have any of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments, or join the conversation over on #Bookstagram (I’m @thejoyceanbooknerd). Okay, so, here we go.

  1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll: I know, I know, you saw this one coming. But there’s a reason why these two are considered timeless classics, even though they’re viewed as children’s fiction. This classic story of a girl’s adventures following a tumble down a rabbit hole is actually filled with complexity and layers that make it an ideal book for adults, too. It’s fun to read and even more fun to read between the lines of this one!
  2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Even if you haven’t seen the movies (or the Lord of the Rings movies), this fantasy adventure is worth every one of those 462 minutes (or the 557 minutes in LOTR’s case). It’s easy to read and offers you a ticket to a wonderfully written adventure in Middle Earth, with plenty of humor, fantasy, and brilliant world-building. I’m tellin’ ya, you’ll want to move to Hobbiton after this one.
  3. Candide by Voltaire: In this satirical work by the famed French philosopher, we embark on a journey with Candide, an innocent young man thrust into the real world and confronted with the very worst of it at every turn. But instead of becoming bitter or pessimistic, he tries to maintain his unwavering (and perhaps blind) optimism throughout the adventures and mishaps that befall him. Not only is this one hilarious, but it’s also a great example of how our outlook affects our reality. If you’re a fan of scathing sarcasm, then this one’s for you.
  4. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway: It’s no secret that Hemingway is a literary legend. His stories are just as poignant and raw as his writing style, but what makes this book great is that it’s a classic Man (or woman) vs Nature story. It’s a fiercely vibrant read with a healthy dose of humanity thrown in, and it’s so short that you can read it in one sitting.
  5. Dubliners by James Joyce: You really expected someone called The Joycean Booknerd” to exclude Joyce from this list? But I know what you’re thinking. “Dude, James Joyce is freaking hard to read! Is this even English?!” Firstly, yes, some of his larger works, such as Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, have had scholars scratching their heads for decades. But secondly, and contrarily, his smaller works are easy to read by comparison. Dubliners is a collection of short stories about a bevy of different characters living everyday lives in the city of Dublin. Ranging from a story of a boy with a crush to a story of a man and his wife’s old lover, this collection aims to focus on the small, simple, and mundane things that make life both beautiful and cruel. It’s a lovely read if you’ve ever been curious about Joyce’s works or if you’re simply looking for a classic that’s not a full novel. Also, James Joyce is bae for good reason.

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The point of this post was to show fellow bookworms that the classics aren’t just the books you might have been forced to read in school and that you shouldn’t be intimidated by them. Some classics are better than others and altogether, they cover a multitude of genres, so there’s something for everyone. It’s also important to remember that many classics were written in different time periods, meaning that some aspects might be politically incorrect or even problematic by today’s standards, but it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to literature, both old and new. That being said, there were many books and authors that I didn’t list here, because they’ve been recommended to the masses ad nauseum (e.g. Pride & Prejudice, which I love, but tell me you haven’t seen a billion people ramble about it already), and these are some classics that I think might offer something new. Anyway, let me know your thoughts, recommendations, favorites, etc. in the comments! As always, happy reading!

Randoms

{Book Review} Modern Gods by Nick Laird

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I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Nick Laird’s novel, Modern Gods, but I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by it. The story follows the interweaving lives of two sisters and their family as they struggle with love, religion, and family life on completely different planes.

Quick Summary:

Alison is getting ready to start a new life with her new husband, but soon realizes that he has a secret past that neither of them can ignore. Her sister, Liz, a worldly professor, flies off to Papua New Guinea to document the rise of a new cargo cult in the country and slowly becomes entangled in the web that the cult leader has cast. Throughout the book, the sisters, on opposite sides of the world, must learn how to cope with the past and rethink their own beliefs regarding religion and history.

Thoughts:

I’m not really a big fan of religion in general. Coming from a country where religion is a huge issue for people, I can relate to the tense and intricate web that Laird attempts to build in this story. It also helps that I am an avid hibernophile, so give me anything even remotely related to Ireland and you’ve won me over. That being said, I did like the way that Laird threaded the topic of religion into this story. Unlike with many other novels that set religion as a major theme in their stories, this wasn’t overwhelming or pushy; it was simply a facet of these characters’ problems. I also loved the inclusion of history and Ireland’s past, as it provided a seamless and honest look into the modern perception and sentiments that many people might harbor towards that very history. It provides a unique and insightful look into two completely different tribes and does so in a way that keeps you glued to the page, making you forget that it’s a story about Ulster Protestants and Papua New Guinea cultists.

Verdict:

All in all, this was a very fascinating book to read and something wholly different from my usual reads. But hey, if we always read the same kinds of books, then we’d get very bored very fast. I give it a solid 3.5★s, because it certainly exceeded my expectations and made me glad that I chose to read it.  If you’re a fan of general fiction with a dash of history, drama, and a truly distinct look at religion in general, then I would definitely recommend this book. You can find it here or here.

*Thank you to HarperCOllins UK and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ramblings, Randoms

What I’ve learned from writing my first novel

Ever since I was six years old, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I felt so at home within the pages of a book and even now, the yellowing pages and ink stains of books still act as my refuge from the world. As I grew up, I was told that being a writer wasn’t a real career, that it was more of a hobby than anything else, that it was for alcoholics and tortured souls. But after 25 years on this earth, many of which were difficult, I’ve learned that people sometimes spout bullshit.

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@thejoyceanbooknerd

I never stopped writing or loving to write. It was always my escape and my passion, the one thing I could do for me that no one could take away or even touch, no matter how much they loved or hated my writing. Now, after a year of writing my first novel, a story that I never thought I would write, I’ve learned so much about writing, literature, and life in the process. I started this book out of boredom, to be perfectly honest – boredom and the desperation to do something. It was during a time when my life felt empty and like it was going nowhere and the only thing that kept me going was reading. I forced myself to broaden my literary horizons by reading more young adult fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, and I fell in love with those genres. Then, an idea was born: What if I could combine those three genres with my love of classical literature?

I went with that idea and created a story around it. Characters and worlds came to life on my screen and that little voice in my head that always told me “You are a writer” began to get louder and louder. Now, at the halfway point, I’m still learning what it means to be “a real writer” (or novelist, rather), but I’ve learned so much from this journey already.

  1. Believe in your idea: I was going through a really rough time when I started this story, but my partner never stopped motivating me to push through and believe in my story, no matter what. That was probably the hardest part of continuing with this story, because despite being a journalist, I had never written a full-fledged novel and I didn’t believe that I could, until I put my mind to it and just kept writing until it started to look like one. As the saying goes, “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s not a horse.
  2. Write consistently: Everyone has a different process. You could be highly organized and make time for writing every morning or evening with your laptop and a cup of coffee (or tea!). You could be more inconsistent or messy and just write whenever you feel like it during the day with your scattered notes and half a dozen empty coffee cups. It doesn’t matter. There is no single way to write. Write the way you are comfortable with, regardless of what advice articles and experts tell you. I tend to fluctuate between the two extremes, where sometimes I’m highly organized and productive, and other times, I’m like a spinning top and I write sporadically throughout the week. As long as you write and write with your heart, nothing else matters.
  3. Don’t try to emulate anyone else, write as yourself: I don’t mean this in the “don’t plagiarize” sense, although, please don’t plagiarize, it’s very bad. But what I mean is that every writer has their own unique way of expressing themselves and their stories, and so do you. It’s what makes every book so different. Imagine if everyone wrote in the same way, how boring would literature be? People criticized James Joyce for bending the rules of linguistics, but no one can ever say that his style was not unique. If your style is to throw the rule book out the window, then, by all means, hurl that baby across the street. If it’s more formal or funny or serious or whatever, own it. My own style is rather eclectic and highly dependent on my mood and the scenes I’m writing, but it’s a style that is all my own, and despite admiring countless authors and their styles, I want my writing to reflect me and my style, not anyone else’s.
  4. Get external feedback: I cannot stress how important this one is. I learned this lesson a few months into my book. The first thing I wrote was the prologue and I kept going back and forth, changing and editing and adding and removing, over and over and over. Eventually, I was sick of being uncertain and insecure about it, so I sent those first few chapters to a friend, who is as literarily-inclined as I am, and waited for his objective feedback. Once I got it, it changed everything. It wasn’t an “OMG GURL, YOU’RE SO AWESOME, LIKE OMG” sort of thing, but a constructive and critical look at what was good and what needed improvement or alteration. It lessened that nagging habit that I think all writers share, where we look at our work and think “Nope, that’s crap, delete it,” without really looking at it objectively. So, get a friend or family member or professor, anyone whom you can trust with your work and you know will give you an honest opinion about your work as you go along. I personally thrive off of feedback, because I’ve never written fantasy/sci-fi or YA before, so I need some sort of objective measure of whether I’m doing it correctly or completely missing the mark.
  5. Have fun: I think this one is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s also forgotten a lot of the time. Writing and writers have a bad rep. We’re painted as tortured souls or eccentrics, sometimes even as complete loons, and writing is seen as agonizing, sadomasochistic work, but neither are necessarily true. Writers write because it’s who they are, how they cope, or how they share their existence with the world. Sure, writing is hard. No one ever said it was easy, and if anyone ever tells you it is, they’re lying. But it’s creation and imagination coming together in your mind and flowing from your fingers, so try to enjoy it. Whether you write to be published or not, whether you write fan-fic or sci-fi or YA or poetry or what have you, try to have fun, because what’s life without a little fun? Boring, that’s what.

And that’s it. I mean, I’ve learned a lot more, literature-wise, but I won’t bore you with listing out archetypes and plot models and all that jazz (unless you’re curious, in which case, let me know and I’ll write something up about the stuff that’s helped me), but these are the main things I’ve learned so far. It’s not easy writing a book, no-sirree, but it’s worth the hard work. When you see those pages accumulate and that word count rise, it’s so rewarding, because you get to see your idea take shape in real time. I can’t wait to finish my book so that I can share it with the world, because it’s a part of me and my journey. Even if I haven’t met any griffins or have any magical powers in real life.

Books & novels & stories, oh my!, Ramblings, Randoms

{Blurb about my upcoming debut novel} Saolfigher: The Verseweaver

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As some of you may know, I’m a writer by trade, and it’s always been my ultimate dream in life to be a full-fledged novelist. So, as I’m inching closer to finishing my debut novel, Saolfigher: The Verseweaver, I wanted to share a little blurb about it with all of you.

Saolfigher is the story of Molly, a young woman with a limitless power at her fingertips and caught in the middle of a decades-long conspiracy that she must navigate with the help of her trusty companion, Bloom, who just happens to be trapped in the form of a preserved daffodil. Her powers? Oh, right, she can bring fictional characters and creatures to life, which is the one superpower I wish I had, too. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go frolicking in the fields with Mr. Darcy or sit down to discuss feminism with Jane Eyre? It’s a story of adventure, overcoming your demons, and beating the odds, no matter how high they’re stacked. It’ll be the first of a trilogy and it’s been such a difficult but rewarding experience so far.

I wanted to tell you all a bit about it and I will regularly be updating the “Novels” page to keep you posted on my progress, my writing process, contests or giveaway, ideas that I’m struggling with, and leaving it open to any questions you might have regarding my first book. I still don’t know if I’m going to go for self-publishing or try my hand at traditional publication, but I would appreciate any advice you had about either one.

This book was a passion project from the very first word, and in many ways, it wouldn’t have been possible without the support and inspiration of my boyfriend and one of my dearest friends, E. I’m truly so excited to share this book with the world and especially with my bookish friends. Cheers, my fellow bookworms!

Randoms

My First Book Challenge: The March Classics Challenge!

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One of the things I love about Bookstagram is that there are so many monthly challenges to inspire you every month. They include daily prompts, usually surrounding a theme, and are just really fun to be a part of and to be creative with throughout the month. So, a couple of friends and I, who are also huge fans of the classics, we decided to create a challenge for the month of March inspired by the classics. Now, fear not, even if you’re not a big fan of the classics or would like to discover some more classics, you can participate in this challenge. It’s not limited to the classics, i.e. you can post whatever you feel expresses the prompt of the day and interpret it however you like. For example, for Day 24 “Bright Star by John Keats (high fantasy or sci-fi)”, you can do anything that you feel expresses either of those prompts, whether it’s posting a photo inspired by Lord of the Rings (e.g. high fantasy) or a photo inspired by the great, big galaxy itself. Just have fun and be creative! I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with! 😀