To be entirely honest, this is an authorial recommendation, and an obligation to yourself: One Must Read something by Haruki Murakami in their lifetime. His writing is the type that stays with you days afterward, reminding you of that one really vivid image or strange character or confusing plot point you think might just be allegorical. While I was in Germany this summer, I spent a non-negligible amount of time in English bookstores looking for cheap copies of Murakami. I finally picked up a copy of Kafka on the Shore for about 6 Euros. I could tell by the back cover and the weight of the book in my hand that this was something I wanted to get something out of - and I did. It took me the entirety of fall semester to get through this book, but I was rewarded for my time.
There are a few reasons why I want to push Murakami's books into your life. His work is decked out in both Western and Eastern philosophy, playing out in symbols and conceits that double as rich allusions and explanations of thought. There are so many thoughts from so many reference points that the result is immensely complex and beautiful: see a scene in Kafka on the Shore when a man dressed as Colonel Sanders brings a character to a traditional shrine, quotes some Hegel, and bamfs out. This sort of scene brings me to my second point: Murakami's work is magical realism, and everybody needs to experience some magical realism. Maybe it won’t be your thing; at first, the book wasn’t my thing, either. I wasn’t sure what I understood and what I didn’t, what I was supposed to be confused about and what the semester’s stress was keeping me from getting. About halfway through the book, though, I accepted the absurd happenings of the story; there are fluid and rigid rules to the universe that Murakami plays with, and it’s effective in creating a vivid world ripe with otherworldliness and distance. He manages to keep the reader in his characters heads, exploring the uneven world through their eyes. I really valued the way the story threads started out incredibly separated from one another and then blended together – even the blending is somewhat unexpected.
Long story short, there’s a reason that Murakami is widely regarded for being incredible. His work – even in the translation we English-speakers get – is captivatingly beautiful, sensual, and musical. It’s worth reading. Even if magical realism, converging pairs of strange characters, and layered allusions aren’t your thing, I still recommend stepping into the confused existences that Murakami manages to paint in Kafka on the Shore. Hopefully, you’ll be swept away into the world that isn’t so different from our own, but is just a version painted by brushstrokes of a vitally other existence.
Written by Erika S.
The perspective shared in this blog post is that of the author and not of R2 as an organization. This editorial is covering an event and its meaning and is not meant to further a political platform.
About nine months ago, I purchased what I thought was a rather ironic t-shirt from an online vendor. It was the first political tshirt I’d ever bought, and for the record, it was not very political, and its irony only appears now. I don’t take a stance; all I could take was the opposite of one. IDK NOT TRUMP THO 2016, was the only political slogan I could bear to plaster onto my chest. It was the primaries at the time. Things obviously changed. Still, at the time, I got my absentee ballot and spent a long time in my dorm room with a pen not knowing what to fill out. What I filled out in the end was essentially worthless: it was a little streak of rebellion, a little streak of ink that went on to become 1% - maybe less - of the primary vote in my state. A stance of nothingness.
Today, the English Undergraduate Association at Rice hosted a "Resistance Read-In," an event where any member of the community could read a piece of writing - poetry or prose, original or not - that they thought represented or had come from a people that had not been heard, or a group that were not being listened to. Political stance of the event aside, the key here was being listened to. And it was about something hard: saying no when people either want you to say yes, or don't want you to say anything at all. “Our goal is to fill today with sounds of acceptance and solidarity,” read the signs on all side of Willy’s Statue.
As people walked through the Academic Quad today, passing between their classes as they normally would, there was a surprising amount of silence. Most of the people going about there day were forced to listen to the single voice – cutting and demanding attention, asking to be heard. There’s something about listening that’s hard on this campus. Maybe it’s just the fact that there’s a helicopter landing on a building nearby, churning through the clouds to suck all the words out of the air. Or maybe it’s just the fact that we just don’t try very hard.
The read-in asked for people to say no and for people to listen, but it’s not as those two things always go hand-in-hand. I’ve heard far too many voices saying no so loudly they won’t listen to people saying yes, either. In writing, we can say much, but only some of our voices carry. Some of them are closed in poetry books or wrapped up on the sites we never read. I would argue that some people in this country have gotten used to being invisible and never should have needed to – and if you feel silenced, shout. There’s no need to tear the helicopters out of the sky and smash their pieces on the ground, because if we say listen instead of no, if we make the space and say we're listening, voices will shine out - over the helicopters and over the passerby.
Today, there were a lot of incredible pieces read and a lot of incredible lessons learned. We heard all sorts of voices, some sad, some absolutely elated, and all of those voices are valid. It can be difficult for us to realize that sometimes. Today's read-in was important to a lot of people and an excellent event, because it reminded us of the incredible voices that are out there and the incredible power of the written word - that which makes the air around it still and the people around it listen. I ask you to consider a thought by Jose Marti, read clearly and confidently this morning: that "Trenches of ideas are worth more than trenches of stone."
Written by Erika S.
Brazos Bookstore, an independent bookstore located conveniently at the edge of Rice Village, has become my new happy place. From the outside, it looks nondescript, its darkened windows blending seamlessly into the beige strip mall walls. It could be a nail parlor, or a dry cleaner, or a secondhand grocery store. Opening the door, however, you are greeted with bright shelves piled high with books.
Just the aesthetic appeal of a sunlit room wallpapered with colorful book sides is enough to make my day, but Brazos has much more. It’s a small bookstore, only a single room, but it makes the most out of the space, keeping few duplicates on hand and cramming every surface with more books. The wide selection is supplemented by the handwritten staff recommendation cards dotting the walls. I can enter the store with no sense of direction, read a few blurbs, and come away with a new stack of books I want to read. The staff members themselves are some of the greatest resources Brazos has to offer. They are well read and extremely helpful. Each writes articles for the bookstore’s website, populating it with reviews and interviews. The Brazos Bookstore staff also host events for fellow literature lovers, from book clubs to signings to readings, including their upcoming hosting of Zadie Smith.
Overall, Brazos Bookstore is more than a store. It’s a place where a small community of Houston readers can gather to celebrate books, and I highly recommend making the trek out to Bissonnet Street to experience it.
Written by Emma E.
For more information on Brazos, visit their website: http://www.brazosbookstore.com/ or go visit them!
Another year and another semester have begun, bringing with them the usual battery of stress, mayhem, and occasional delight as we all transition into 2017. I personally believe that the best way to cushion such transitions is with a great book, and to that end I’d like to tell you guys about The Paper Menagerie.
Published in 2011 by author Ken Liu, this book generated a veritable storm of critical praise. It won two of the biggest awards in Science Fiction, the Hugo and the Nebula. I picked it up on a whim at my local bookstore this holiday (why is it that all of the really Earth-shattering books come to us by chance?) and it completely consumed my life in the best possible way.
The Paper Menagerie is a collection of fifteen short stories about life, science, and human connection. Like many great works of speculative fiction, it strikes out to the boundary dividing science and technology from spirituality and fantasy, blurring the distinctions to render a reality that is gritty, charming, often strange, and resoundingly human. Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a Sci-Fi fan, I can confidently say that there is something in these stories for you.
Although the collection as a whole is basically flawless, I had some stand-out favorites. There is pure hard-boiled goodness with a sharp techno-thriller twist in “The Regular”, which chronicles the efforts of a world-weary private investigator with a haunted past who will stop at nothing to bring justice to the victim of a brutal but publicly ignored murder. “State Change” switches gears to magic realism, portraying a society in which human beings carry their souls with them through life as physical objects that must be guarded and protected; in this harrowing world, a timid young woman seeks out warmth and companionship while straining to preserve her ice-cube soul. And in “The Waves," the ultimate fate of the human race is laid out poetically in an epic saga of deep-space exploration that challenges the meaning of human identity and love in the face of cosmic eternity.
It’s a truly beautiful collection that celebrates culture, history, science, and pretty much everything that makes life meaningful. If you do decide to pick up a copy of this wonderful book (I would offer up mine, but it’s already out on loan) feel free to hunt me down and tell me your favorites, too.
Written by Cara B.
Happy Holidays! With second semester just starting a few days ago, it feels like everything went from a calm and happy new year’s to the panic of the semester, and it can be easy to want to push things off...especially forming new habits. But starting from the very beginning is exactly how a trend in behavior becomes a routine. If you're interested in upping your writing game in 2017, here are a few tips and routines for you to consider getting into this year.
Maybe this is an obvious one, but it's challenging to find time to read for fun in college. I mean, you're already reading two novels a week for your two English classes, and there's your chemistry textbook, and there's those articles for sociology, and why would you want to read after that again? But reading really is the best way to get better at writing, and picking what you read feels like a little dash of freedom. But it has to be a routine. So, if you want to really read more books, treat it like a daily/weekly challenge: read 30 minutes of a novel, or 2 poems by a new poet, or one creative non-fiction essay.
2. Give yourself deadlines.
I’m one of those people who started making time for writing early in my life (good job, past self), but I still accomplish the most work (and sometimes the best work) when I set deadlines for myself that I treat like normal school deadlines. Add “Write 500 words about protagonist” or “Go to a coffee shop and write” to your to-do list, and then make sure you check it off! If you’re one of those people who have trouble meeting deadlines or goals you set for yourself, get your friends involved. (My roommate just got an Amazon Echo Dot for Christmas, so I’ve been considering having Alexa yell at me about my deadlines, so there's a protip also.)
3. Engage with a new form.
This is a pretty easy one to do, because it can be a lot more fun and less of a routine than the other suggestions I've given. In my opinion, any sort of art can inform your writing, no matter what it is, and it gives you a better appreciation of what the written word can accomplish when you compare it with something else. If you’ve never read a graphic novel, go read one. If you’ve never listened to a podcast that tells a story, go listen to one. If you’ve never watched K-Drama, go watch one. It’s important to engage with the type of writing you want to be doing, but you can also learn a lot from the expectations and warping of expectations that happen in other forms of media.
4. Sharing is daring!
“When are we going to read your poetry?” asked your great-uncle from Oregon over break. If you’re like me, you’ve probably stuttered something along the lines of “Well you see I’m working on something but I don’t really like it and uh I’ll it’ll be uh yeah when I’m ready, when I polish it more, then you can read it.” Maybe you don’t have to share your precious soul-space with Great Uncle Freddy, but getting feedback from a friend, or a classmate, or your Tumblr followers can be extremely helpful, and everyone should practice doing it if you're serious about writing. It tells you what is working and what still has yet to work, which we as writers can't always see on our own. Plus, the more you share things by your own volition, the easier it gets when you have to.
There are lots of possible things you can do to better your writing life in 2017, and if these aren't doing it for you, there are so many people on the internet that are doing the same thing this blog post just did. Whatever your new year's writing resolution is, good luck!!
Written by Erika S.
Whenever we have that rare and indescribably wonderful experience of indulging ourselves in a phenomenal book, nothing can compare to that consuming feeling of obsessively flipping through the pages, hooked to the characters and imagining oneself interacting with them, overcome with a strange sensation upon finishing the read and attempting to visualize how the storyline might have continued after the final words.
Many books have given me that experience, yet what I find upon finishing them is that certain lines stand out to me and remain imbedded my mind for days on end. They’re insightful lines that cause me to rethink certain aspects of my life and of the world. They’re lines that I recall when I’m in a difficult situation, lines that somehow soothe me and allow me to regain a sense of composure. Although it was difficult to choose, here are what I find to be ten incredibly powerful quotes that perhaps you too will remember in tough times and help you stay strong:
Written by Sarah S.
Rice's classes end today, so this is our last blog post of the semester. From all of us on the R2 staff, have a great holiday season!
Whenever I get really really stressed, doing something creative always helps me unwind. With finals looming ahead, everyone might need a little literary study break! When you find yourself feeling frazzled, I encourage you to try some out some blackout poetry.
All you need is a loose newspaper article, a book page or a magazine you are willing to part with, and a sharpie! Your goal—create a brand new story using the existing text in front of you. To begin, glance down at the page and box in any phrases that for whatever reason, really strike you. Now, see if any of these phrases fit together. The catch? You can’t move any of the text and you still want the poem to read correctly from left to right. You can choose whether you want to make a broad story out of just "big" words like nouns, verbs, and adjectives or if you want to create a more coherent narrative using big words and little words like "is," "of," and "the" to move the story along. Once you have a stanza or two marked out, you are ready for the fun part! Blackout EVERYTHING ELSE on the page, and feel all of your angst instantly melt away. If you want to get super fancy, you can even create pictures on the page to match the feel of your brand new poem.
I love blackout poetry because you can create something uniquely your own that stems from writing that’s already out there. There is something special about finding secret messages in unlikely places, and I swear the entire process is ridiculously therapeutic.
Have fun & happy last week of classes!
Written by Ellie M.
Depending on who you ask, creativity strikes on its own whim. It comes when you’re in the middle of a bio test or sitting in rush hour traffic or when you’re invested in a deep conversation with your best friend. Then, when you sit down at your desk, ready to write, it’s like it was never even there in the first place. We’ve all been there before. Where do you start when the poetry gets stuck, when the characters are all wrong, when the words don’t exist yet for something you haven’t even thought of?
According to one study, people are most able to do constrained thinking (like concentrating on solving singular, linear issues) when they’re at full mental capacity, which varies person to person. If you’re a morning bird, this will be when you wake up; and as a night owl, it’ll probably be easier later in the day. Thinking expansively, though, in a creative capacity where the bounds are nonexistent and the opportunities are limitless -- this is actually better to do when you’re not feeling so hot intellectually. The idea is that when you’re mentally “on,” you have the focus that you can dedicate to one task. When you’re a night owl still in that morning haze, your lack of concentration actually allows your mind to take all sorts of paths, which will likely produce some unique ideas.
Routine is how most of the greats became great -- rise, focus, write, repeat, on the same schedule every day. This repetition gives you subconscious cues that it’s time to get into the thought patterns that help sculpt your stories from the ground up. Once you’ve got your routine down, make sure you can stay in the flow. High intensity noise over 95 decibels - think a food processor - is not going to be conducive to your writing, and if you want to be most productive, split your work into 1-3 hour chunks followed by a break. Keep in mind that these are pretty broad generalizations coming from psychologists, and that maybe you function differently - like Allen Ginsberg, who could work anywhere, or maybe like Ray Bradbury, whose constant inspiration negated the need for a schedule.
When asked about his writing habits, E.B. White replied, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” So if you’re trying to get your wordplay into the world, consider this: make your ideal conditions every day, so that in the end, you are the master of the word count.
If you’re looking for more information, here are some good places to start.
Written by Kristen Hickey ('20)
I came across the poets Nesbit and Gibley (who describe themselves as “two old men who write poetry, short stories and other things”) while scrolling through my WordPress Recommendations. One of their poems, titled We Are Fragile Things, had gone viral. Intrigued, I explored the rest of their site. The poems below are just a few examples of the poignant poetry the pair have written (check out https://nesbitandgibley.com/ for more).
Poem #1: We Are Fragile Things
We Are Fragile Things acknowledges the great achievements of humans (“They’ve explored the deepest trenches, / Climbed the highest mountains, / Even travelled to the moon and back”) but notes that “we can be fragile things.” The use of “we” implicates us, as readers, as the humans the poem is talking about. We struggle with “death and accident,” but “we can be mended, / Healed by truth and trust.”
The last sentence of the poem is: “We are fragile things / Broken by loss and fixed with love.” The change from “we can be fragile things” to “we are fragile things” demonstrates that we cannot escape the struggles that life presents to us. We can, however, be “fixed with love” and the companionship of those around us.
We Are Fragile Things – https://nesbitandgibley.com/2016/09/23/we-are-fragile-things/
Poem #2: To Lighten The Load of Her Heavy Mind
The poem introduces a girl’s mental turmoil with the quote: “‘It’s not the world I endure, but myself.’” We quickly learn that her greatest enemy is herself; the girl struggles “to venture out for the newspaper” because even simple acts like that one apply “gravity / and pressure” to the girl’s “shoulders, / [and] to her beautiful mind.” The italicizing of “pressure” emphasizes the persistent burden to appear normal for other people, a new kind of struggle that the girl is “not quite used to.” Nevertheless, the poem reassures her—and us—that having a bad day is “not the end of the world.” In fact, it is perfectly normal.
To Lighten The Load of Her Heavy Mind – https://nesbitandgibley.com/2016/11/08/to-lighten-the-load-of-her-heavy-mind/
Poem #3: Wireless
Many of us are glued to our phones and our laptops. But the poem reminds us that we can—if we wanted to—leave “the mean glare of a white screen” and “fully embrace the magnificence of being human.” As humans, “we’re wonderfully wireless,” able to forge meaningful relationships without the use of man-made gadgets.
Wireless – https://nesbitandgibley.com/2016/11/01/wireless/
Poem #4: Milk
What happens when someone constant in your life passes away?
This poem brings an unexpected twist to that question by detailing the impact of a community milkman’s death on the residents, despite them “not knowing his name.” The loss of the milkman’s presence is seen in the doorsteps that remain “empty bottled,” but as the same time, life continues to go on. The repetition of “will” in the subsequent lines (“The trees will shed their leaves,” “the traffic lights will blink,” and “the sun will rise at dawn again”) also suggest that there is a constancy to look forward to. The poem ends on a hopeful note, saying that “tomorrow, there’ll be milk on our doorstep.”
Milk – https://nesbitandgibley.com/2016/11/11/milk/
Poem #5: We’ve Only Fleeting Minutes
The length of the poem (it’s only 6 lines) reflects its message—that we should live in the moment. Confronted with our fast-paced lives, we may think of pictures as the only way to “capture the moment before it ends.” But, as the speaker of the poem points out, we should let the moment end, for “that’s the beauty” of it all.
We’ve Only Fleeting Minutes – https://nesbitandgibley.com/2016/11/03/weve-only-fleeting-minutes/
Written by Evelyn Syau (’20)
In these times of stress and fatigue, I have found it exceedingly difficult to read for my own enjoyment. The things that inclined me to be an English major in the first place - those long nights wrapped up in the pages of another world - no longer seem open to me. There is simply too much to do. That essay, lab, or internship is just more important.
So, I want to use this writing space to bring up a piece by one of my favorite novelists: Isabel Allende’s “This I Believe” personal essay for NPR, called, “In Giving I Connect with Others.” In her essay, Allende details how her daughter’s untimely death led her to a revelation on how to live her life. Like many of us at Rice, Allende “lived with passion and in a hurry, trying to accomplish too many things.” However, when her daughter Paula died, everything stopped for her. Through a harrowing grieving process encompassing two years in which she reflected on her daughter’s life, Allende discovered a personal mantra to live by: You only become rich through spending yourself.
I think it is easy for us to get lost in the routine drama of life. When something like losing a loved one happens, it’s like getting a bucket of icy water to the face. All of a sudden, we see the bigger picture.
While Rice champions a culture of care, individual acts of kindness can still be forgotten in times of monumental stress. I have been guilty of this myself; when a friend was in need, I still chose to pursue my academics rather than support her. At a higher level institution like Rice, it is expected that people would need to spend more time focusing on academics. However, I think it is equally important to keep in mind that GPA and leadership positions are only a few small facets of life. When we focus in on things like grades, it is easy to become blind to the bigger workings of life and the people around us. Allende’s essay reaffirmed a tenet I always kept in the back of my mind: human relationships are the most important thing in this world. That’s probably a drastic and somewhat naïve thing to say, but it is something I see confirmed again and again in daily situations.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: while life is definitely stressful (especially with finals coming up), it may be beneficial to step back and see all the wonderful humans we have around us—and to be grateful for the relationships supporting us.
Also, if you want to read Isabel Allende’s personal essay, here it is: http://www.npr.org/2005/04/04/4568464/in-giving-i-connect-with-others
I highly recommend it ☺
Written by Jennifer F.
-Seamus Heaney, Beowulf
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.