Style Over Substance

The world has seen some pretty shitty books. Whether said literature earns that characterization because of a terrible plot, lackluster characters that remain static throughout the story, awful writing, or obnoxious content is irrelevant. Terrible books are terrible books. It seems to me, however, that there has lately been a huge surge in the number of terrible Young Adult Fiction in the market. When I was younger, I absolutely adored the dramatic covers and jackets – as soon as I read the first description of the handsome hero, I knew I was guaranteed to love the story. I truly believe that I have read every series about fallen angels that was published up until the year 2012. I absolutely ate it up. I adored the drama of the story but could always rest assured that everything would work out in the end. The main characters would get back together, the villain would be vanquished, and all other loose ends would be tied up.

 

While I will agree that this type of literature is necessary to an extent, I think the lack of diversity, or even literature of worth period, in the Young Adult genre is appalling. When I was younger, I would go to the YA Fiction section and see books of some actual substance. Granted, I skipped over them in favor of the books with kissing, but I saw them nonetheless. A few weekends ago, when I was home for my sister’s fourteenth birthday, I took her to the library. I walked with her to the YA section and perused the shelves, just to pass the time while she picked out her books. I saw a truly overwhelming number of books about supernatural romance, and almost nothing else.

 

Going home later that day, I asked my sister about the popular book series she had been reading lately. I asked her if any of her friends still read Harry Potter, or Percy Jackson, or even the Hunger Games – books that I grew up with and read as a young adult and considered books of actual substance. Her answer was a resounding no – she and her friends read books like Fallen and House of Night. Going home, I googled these books and saw for myself exactly how little other than romance these books contained.

 

I went to the Barnes and Noble website and researched the top books for teens listed on the website, and read the full Wikipedia synopsis of each of the books. I made up criteria in my mind – if I could transport the characters out of that particular story and setting, place them in another one, and still make sense of the plot, it was not a book of worth. There were some that passed the test – a love story that was unique to the rest of the plot and setting, or a story without romance at all.

 

I truly don’t mean to condemn every “beach read” or YA fiction book out in the market today. I think I’m just frustrated because I see my little sister and young cousins reading these books, and not getting any sense of how a good book should read at all. I do believe, however, that school curriculum has been moving towards combatting this. And there are still good books out there. So maybe I should stop complaining and look on the bright side – reading has merit in itself, and I’m sure there are young people like me who see this issue and will go out into the world and write the kinds of books that will be impactful and teach a lesson – beyond just how to get and keep a vampire boyfriend.

 

Here’s the Barnes and Noble list of top teen books:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/u/teens-teen-books/379003056/

Out of the Slump

To be completely honest, at the beginning this Re-Purposing project gave me a bit of a headache. I don’t know if it was because I felt that I had never been challenged in such a way before or if it was because the idea I chose is neither dynamic nor broad enough for me to expand on it in the way that is expected. I got discouraged, considered changing my base piece approximately seven times, and finally decided to just give in.

Giving in was possibly the best thing that I could have done for myself in regards to this project. I didn’t look at the story for a few days, I left all my paper copies under my desk, and I conveniently ignored every due date that I knew was fast approaching. When I finally crawled underneath my desk and grabbed the papers, again frustrated and perhaps a tad hopeless, I had a revelation. I am a good writer, and I have a good imagination, and this story is interesting. To confirm, I sent my story over to my father, the most intelligent person and best writer that I know, to evaluate. His feedback was quite positive and exactly what I needed to bolster my confidence.

This newfound confidence in my project has also made the technicalities of this project much easier to bear. The Salem Witch Trials aren’t exactly a bright and happy topic, and much of the literature I have found thus far is appropriately disturbing. I’ve read more descriptions of piercing screams and the smell of burnt flesh than I care to count. But after my newfound interest in my topic, I’ve been able to concentrate longer and to find more numerous and also dynamic sources from which to base my research.

I’ve also decided to utilize the movie The Crucible as part of my research. (Trailer here) I think that this is appropriate in two important ways: firstly, because I am writing a script, it will give me an idea of how to space dialogue, define physical actions, and describe characters – particularly because their outfits and body language are very specific to that time period. Secondly, I think that breaking up long hours of tedious reading with a movie will give me a fresh perspective on the topic. “Wall-of-text syndrome” is certainly something I frequently suffer from, especially when I need to conduct more than basic research on a topic.

For the first time since beginning this project, I am excited to continue with it. I am no longer feeling discouraged or hopeless; I am perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed considering I shirked my responsibilities with regards to repurposing for so long, but it’s nothing that I can’t make up with dedication and time. I am looking forward to using class time and getting feedback on my project – I realize that my peers are also an excellent resource for everything I am planning to do and I do not want to waste this opportunity.

So here’s hoping I don’t regress back to my hopelessness and desperation, and instead am able to accomplish something I am proud of and I feel is worthy of my time and talent.

How and Why I’ll Repurpose

I struggled with the decision of which example of my writing I would choose to repurpose. I’ve taken an English or writing-based class every semester so far at Michigan, so I had a wide range of pieces to choose from. I’ve reviewed countless movies, books, comics, and television shows. I’ve written nonfiction accounts of my own experiences. I’ve penned poems, analyzed scientific research, and debated the merit of countless policies and political movements. While all of these examples certainly have worth, I did not feel any specific passion for most of them. So I narrowed down my choices to three, and weighted the pros and cons of each one.

The first of my three options was to repurpose an essay I wrote my first semester of freshman year. It was a review of the movie Into the Wild about Christopher McCandless and his story. I decided to take the stance of skeptic – I did not truly believe that McCandless was as unattached as he claimed to be, and cited numerous examples of things he left behind – including a hat, a handprint, and his car – as proof. Had I gone with this option, I would have repurposed it into an academic paper comparing McCandless to Amelia Earhart, Robert F. Scott, and other doomed explorers.

bus

My second option was to repurpose an essay I wrote second semester of freshman year on my favorite children’s book. I chose Madeline as it was my childhood favorite, and analyzed every aspect of the book – down to the symbolic meaning of the black lines that mark the page showing the rain on Notre Dame. Choosing this option to repurpose would have had me writing an analysis of children’s books in general, perhaps including Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and other modern examples of children’s literature.

madeline

My third option was based on a short story I began writing as a freshman in high school but did not complete until my freshman year of college. It is the morbid tale of a woman-turned-murderer – a direct descendant of one of the witches burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials. This repurposing would involve me writing a sort of “Magic School Bus” type history lesson on the Salem Witch Trials. I would keep the morbid taste that characterized my original story, but make it much more historically-based.

During class, I extensively discussed all three options with my group. While they saw the merit of each of my ideas, they, like me, saw the most potential in the third option. Not only is that the option that I am most interested in, I also hoped to be able to make creativity a central goal of my project – certainly something that I will have to focus on while writing a script for a fictional television show. I have always held a fascination with the Salem Witch Trials and the stories that have come out of that period in history.

I think that I have picked the most interesting but also most difficult of the three options. I have never written a script before; I am not sure of where I should even begin. It is because of this difficulty that I chose the third option, however – I wish to challenge myself and feel that this is the best way to do so. I am nervous but excited to see where this choice will take me.

Why I Read?

These past few weeks as a cohort in the Writing Minor have forced me to search more deeply than perhaps than I have been required to before into the way that I write and the motivation behind it. The “Why I Write” assignment in itself was hugely impactful; for the first time since I came to college, I actually stopped and forced myself to go beyond my usual “I love to read, and therefore I love to write” answer. The past few readings we have been assigned have been eye opening, as well. I had never previously considered that the reader and the writer might be one in the same. I particularly enjoyed “Reading and Writing Without Authority.” The disparity between a piece of writing by someone who feels him or herself an authority figure on the particular topic and a piece of writing by someone who lacks confidence and even general knowledge about the topic that he or she chose. Specifically, I have found that often times when someone is working with very little experience or knowledge, that writer tends to inappropriately use large words or complex sentence structures, attempting to sound intelligent and well-versed on the subject but in fact making it all the more evident that the author has little to know idea what he or she is doing. I also believe, however, that it is impossible not to sound pompous or verbose on certain topics.

On a separate note, I also very much enjoyed the reading about reading. Haas and Flower’s “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning” provided a highly insightful commentary about reading and how difficult it can be to refrain from simply skimming over long blocks of text, or reading without truly paying attention to the words. This is a problem I frequently struggle with; I can sympathize completely with people suffering from attention issues when I am faced with a long block of text. I wonder at the point of many of the articles I am assigned to read for some of my classes; we go over the information in lecture, so what is the point of forcing me to read long, confusing, and often circuitous articles that only serve to further confuse and frustrate me. I can absolutely appreciate the merit of highly academic writing, but I also think that, as students and not experts on any of these subjects, we would be better served by a professor’s summary or interpretation of the readings. The statement “If we view reading as the act of constructing multi-faceted yet integrated representations, we might hypothesize that the problem students have with critical reading of difficult texts is less the representations they are constructing than those they fail to construct” resonated with me particularly – often times, we know that we are supposed to take meaning from the texts we are assigned, and therefore we construct simple and shallow meanings in our mind, completely missing the entire point of the text and perhaps the idea itself.

Going forward, I plan to keep all of this in mind. I was already aware of the changes that I needed to make to the way that I critically read texts for class, and these articles have pushed me to actually address that problem rather than hope it gets better with time.

magnifying glass

Too Much Free Time

Every sorority stereotype was fulfilled early Monday night as the news that the University of Michigan was cancelling all classes on Tuesday spread throughout my house. Absolutely dead to the world napping in my bed around 7:00 PM, I jerked awake to the cacophonous shrieks of my friends from the hallway outside my room. Throwing open the door, I bolted into the hallway, terrified. The sight that greeted me was far from scary, however – jumping, screaming girls filled the third-floor hallway, study room, and bathroom. Someone was blasting “Animals,” and through the music, I could hear sung snatches of “Hail to the Victors,” the famous chorus of “Seven Nation Army,” and the chest beating chant from The Wolf of Wall Street. Fear quickly turned to confusion as I felt myself lifted up from behind and spun around. One of my roommates had her phone lifted up in the air, taking a video. Another roommate shoved her phone in my face, showing me the Michigan Daily’s tweet heard ‘round the world. It read, “University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald confirms that #Umich will cancel classes tomorrow, January 28 because of the cold conditions.” (Michigan Daily Twitter). After what I remember as a solid 30 seconds of blank staring but what was probably actually no more than three, I found myself sharing my friends’ reactions. I called my mom, I texted my younger siblings, and I retweeted the Daily to subtly shove in my State friends’ faces how much better my school is than theirs. My parents and friends were ecstatic, and I was sure this excitement was uniform throughout the school, alumni included. So imagine my surprise when, scrolling through my Facebook news feed earlier today, I came across an article written by two alumni, David Watnick and William Petrich, that were bitter about the school closings, to say the least. Calling the current administration and student body “Cowards of the North,” (clever, boys, clever!) this dynamic duo proceeded to appoint themselves the undisputed kings of the largest alumni pool of any school in the entire world, very shrewdly note that the weather was “a bit cold. And windy!” and finish by deploring anyone who has ever felt joy. Put less dramatically, the two men criticized the University’s decision and cited weather statistics from years past, in which temperatures were colder and snowfall greater and during which classes went on regardless. To these two men I would like to say, “who cares?” I’m sure that most of my anger at their letter was just the overworked, overtired, and stress-ridden student who just wants a break speaking. Perhaps I’m entitled and pampered, and perhaps I truly didn’t deserve the day off. But either way, I fail to see how two (obviously) well-educated and intelligent members of the community found themselves so personally offended by a snow day. I apologize if your black, black souls were exposed to happiness for the first time since you yourselves walked our great campus. In all seriousness (and only half dramatics), why condemn the students and faculty of the University with whom you clearly feel such a sense of kinship for taking one singular day off? It’s not as though we’re seeing signs of class cancellations becoming a pattern – it was the first snow day in 36 years, after all. At the risk of sounding trite, I think perhaps they’re just jealous. Or perhaps they found themselves with too much free time today. No matter the cause or effect of their letter, however, I still thoroughly enjoyed my day off and am sending good vibes and thanks to the faculty and administration that made it possible for me to sit under my heated blanket all day and drink hot chocolate with approximately zero guilt.

 

Read Watnick and Petrich’s article here: http://www.michigandaily.com/opinion/01letter-editor-yellow-decision28

Learning Why Other People Write

I have always known I was a reader. I devoured books as a child – storybooks, fairy tales, novels, comics, even thousand-page volumes about the bottom of the ocean – none were safe from my eyes. While I have always known I was a reader, I have only recently discovered that I am a writer as well. It makes complete sense; my love for reading words and studying the way they are strung together translates perfectly into writing and stringing together these words myself. Thinking of myself as a writer while reading Orwell, Didion, and Sullivan allowed me to garner a completely disparate perspective from a reader that considered herself a marine biologist, an engineer, or a lawyer.

childreading

I’ll start with what I learned from Orwell. I thoroughly enjoyed his style and tone and the way he clearly wrote with a concrete plan in mind. I admired that he was able to criticize writers as a whole, but also did not spare himself from his own sharp disdain. He categorizes himself as the type of writer who operates out of egoism, or “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, etc.” out of aesthetic enthusiasm, or in the pleasure gained from the arrangement of one’s own words, and out of historical impulse, or the desire to articulate facts and use them for the author’s own purpose (Orwell). I, too, have found myself motivated by similar incentives. For this reason, I Orwell’s words resonated with me particularly.

Of the three readings, Didion’s was my favorite. Her unassuming, humble, and quirky style appealed to me and kept me interested throughout the piece. She states several times that she does not completely know what she was doing. She admits, “In short I tried to think. I failed” (Didion). Like Orwell, I appreciate her ability to pinpoint concretely what makes her write. Stating, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means” (Didion). I identified with her last line in particular, “Let me tell you one thing about why writers write: had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel” (Didion). The questions she is talking about are the ones that formed her novel. They came to her randomly and unformed, but she was able to transform them into something complete and linear. I admire her ability to do this and to build a whole story around a single name.

Finally, while reading Sullivan’s “Why I Blog,” I was slightly put off by the self-importance that I found in his work. I agree with his main points – that blogging is a new and malleable form of writing that allows authors to quickly and dynamically share their opinions – but I thought that his post was overly long and verbose, and that his concessions to the importance of traditional writing seemed forced and unauthentic. I cannot define specifically what it is about his style that I find annoying – perhaps it is the way he frequently compares himself to a disc jockey or a jazz musician, or perhaps it is the way he often states that he was one of the earliest bloggers in the blogosphere, as if it gives him a specific right to write. Perhaps the straight-faced, black-and-white picture he includes at the very top, before any content, cemented my opinion before I read anything at all. Whatever it may be, Sullivan was my least favorite of the readings and the one I least identified with.

Whether I liked the readings or not, I’ll still be sure to keep them in the back of my mind as models while I continue to traipse through my career as an aspiring writer.