You can’t just put -tober at the end of everything during October, they said.
It’s the end of October, it’s too late to make another -tober a thing, they said.
There’s already too darn many -tobers, it’ll just be lame, they said.
But who cares what people say.
If you’re reading this, odds are you’re interested in getting and/or staying woke. And it’s a good bet you also like to read. So, dear reader, let me welcome you to… Stay-Woketober!
In honor of Stay-Woketober, the spookiest of -tobers and one I’m aware is not an original creation, I’ve compiled a list of books (and one podcast) that may get you a bit more woke—and they’ll be a nice, well-deserved break from midterms, too.
by Shailja Patel
Shailja Patel is a an internationally acclaimed performance artist and poet, and Migritude is her writing debut: a hybrid of historical narrative, intimate monologue, and powerful poetry, Migritude tells of Patel’s struggle as an Kenyan immigrant living in England who’s trying to connect to her roots while also developing her own identity. It’s a mind-bending read that breaks genres and interweaves stories about British colonialism, silk saris, and Patel’s childhood into a seamless, gorgeous narrative that offers a whole new perspective on culture and immigration.
2. A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Set in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, Hosseini’s books focus on the strict gender roles and religious struggles of Afghans growing up in the war-torn streets of Kabul. The Kite Runner deals with masculinity and morality, while A Thousand Splendid Suns focuses on female empowerment and liberation in the midst of oppression. Both novels are powerfully written against the broader background of Afghan culture and history, and touch upon issues that remain relevant even today.
3. Conversations with People who Hate Me
A nonfiction podcast by Welcome to Night Vale’s queer activist and journalist extraordinaire, Dylan Marron, this show follows Marron as he contacts people who’ve posted hatefully about him online to try and get them to answer a simple question—why? From homophobes to racists, Marron takes you on his journeys to find the humans on the other side of the screen. With an equal focus on social justice and explaining the phenomenon of hate-speech, this podcast is a must-hear.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Brought back into the spotlight by the brilliant Hulu miniseries (and the election of a certain president), Atwood’s classic dystopian novel shows what happens when religious fervor, declining birth rates, and a now terrifyingly realistic authoritarian regime combine. Atwood’s sharp prose and captivating world-building keep you on the edge of your seat as you join Offred in the nightmare of having no civil, political, nor reproductive rights just for being a woman, and the silent acts of rebellion that ensue. Sound familiar?
That’s all for today, folks. Hope you enjoy, and if you do, pass it on. You never know who’s eyes you might end up opening. Happy Stay-Woketober! Read on, stay woke, and beware Gilead.
Written by Mariana N.
I first visited Rice in late February of this year for VISION. When I came back home, my twelfth grade British Literature class had just started reading Frankenstein as a part of what felt like a never-ending hellscape of Romantic literature (although in my opinion it was an improvement upon the preceding never-ending hellscape of Enlightenment literature). I had been anticipating the novel with visions of Boris Karloff in my head, but it continued to hold my interest through my sympathy for the creature. In my opinion, Frankenstein was the monster, and his creature was no more than an abandoned child. An eight foot tall child made up of cut-and-pasted corpses, but a child nonetheless. Who wouldn’t sympathize with the creature spurned by his creator who immediately recognized the abnormality in his creature; who wouldn’t want to reach out to the “poor wretch,” whose only family ran in horror when he revealed his true identity?
Well, a few people. I was told by my classmates that the creature revealing himself to the De Lacey’s as a coming-out allegory didn’t make sense, for a few reasons:
So I let it go. I finished the Romantic literature unit, I passed British Literature, I came to Rice. Frankenstein would have to be revisited at some indefinite point in the future, if at all. I chose the introductory English class taught by the same professor whose class I had visited at VISION, and eight months later, I’m reading Frankenstein again. It’s funny for a few reasons:
It’s almost unbelievable to me, considering my previous desperation to express my sympathy. I was once annoyed that my classmates didn’t agree with me, but now I’m grateful. Could you imagine, on top of the stress that comes with being a high school senior in the middle of your college applications, your classmates agreeing with you, seeing how you could sympathize with this creature, since you and this gigantic, shambling mess of rotting limbs have so much in common? Now, I’m grateful that I was made to wait to sympathize with a monster until the time of year when we all embrace the monsters inside of us.
Written by Anonymous
In high school, I stumbled across a blog article called “Slow Practice for String Players.” In it, Hilary Hahn, an American violinist who performs around the world, explains not only that slow practice is important, but also what slow practice actually means.
While stringed instruments and pen/paper/keyboard are physically quite different from each other, I’ve been thinking about how slow practice might apply to writing—especially in midterm season. First, Hahn advises starting from the beginning: “play everything in slow motion.” Slow motion is what writing a first draft feels like to me. However, unlike Hahn, I don’t choose to write it that way.
The next step is to play the notes slowly, but include shifts, note changes, and string crossings at normal speed. She calls this the ability to play slowly but “move between” at tempo. It seems like checking the gears and making sure they function. Or moving with the flow of ideas, to make sure they’re communicated clearly (or hopefully clearly enough).
She adds that body position cannot be overlooked. Posture isn’t only for dancers or finishing school pupils. I can’t help but think of this literally, but I also feel that this aspect of slow string practice can be translated in writing as balance, perspective, knowing when to go for run around the outer loop before coming back for a second foray into tangled sentences.
Her last tip, which she calls “icing on the cake” is paying attention to phrasing and musicality. She writes, “My teachers taught me that technical prowess and musicality are inextricably connected.” One of my professors recently said to honor your own fascination as a writer. In slow practice for writers, I see these two ideas as intertwined. Just as I love to play music musically, I love to write what I love to read. This might be the icing on the cake, but we all know a cake wouldn’t be much of a cake without its icing (at least for a cupcake).
Although the analogy between slow practice for writers and string players isn’t perfect, thinking about sentences and paragraphs like notes and phrases reminds me that, in many ways, academic writing is art. Maybe it’s a good thing that writing first drafts come slowly. Maybe revision, like practice, can be creative in itself.
Here’s Hilary Hahn’s original article: http://hilaryhahn.com/2004/01/slow-practice-for-string-players/
Her other articles under “favorites” also include “How to Pass Time Alone in a Hotel Room,” “Things to Watch in an Orchestra Concert,” and how to make a costume for your instrument when you’re bored.
Written by Sarah W.
Hey you. Yes, you. Person reading this blog post. You like reading-- you’re on a literary blog after all, so I think this is a fair assumption. So here is my question: when is the last time that you read a book that you chose to read? When was the last time you read because you enjoy reading, and not because you were assigned to read something for class?
I used to spend the majority of my free time reading. Even in high school, I was often found with my nose in a book. I’d read in between classes, before I went to bed, and sometimes (sorry Mom) at dinner. Reading was my primary hobby.
And then, as I’m sure many of you can relate to, I came to college and my course load increased exponentially. It’s the most grating irony of pursuing an English major: you chose the major because you enjoy reading, but then you have to do so much reading for class that you don’t enjoy reading anymore.
You always think that you’ll find time, right? You think that one weekend, maybe, you won’t have a paper deadline or a midterm to study for, and then, maybe, you’ll fall back into reading. You’ll pick up one of the novels you packed to bring to school that’s been gathering dust on your desk and you’ll read the whole thing through right then and there. But that magical weekend never comes and you’re left disappointed.
This summer I started carrying a novel in my backpack again. I set a challenge for myself, to start, just for a week: any time I wanted to reach for my phone to waste time, I’d reach for the book instead. Suddenly, I realized there were tons of moments in my day that I could read a page or two. I could squeeze a chapter in if I was 10 minutes early for work. I would read on the train on my way home. I looked forward to reading, and suddenly my “To Read” pile was shrinking in a way it hadn’t for years.
That’s not to say there isn’t good fiction to be found online-- there absolutely is! But I found that when I opened my phone, that wasn’t often where my fingers were taking me. I’d wind up mindlessly reading whatever articles happened to be on my Facebook feed and (for the most part) being sorely disappointed with their contents. I guess that’s what happens when you let an algorithm make your reading list. Choosing what I was going to read, getting to select the things that I enjoyed, that was the real difference for me. Reading stopped being work and started being an escape again.
So, if you miss reading, this is the advice I would give to you: read in the moments between. Carry a book around or bookmark your favorite poetry site. You may not have an hour to read, but you do have a minute.
Written by Megan G.
One of the things that elicits shock from people is when I inform them of my antipathy towards Ernest Hemingway. Okay. Look. I get that Hemingway is one of the kings of the literary world. That's all well and good. He’s just not my guy. I don’t like the way that Hemingway condenses. I don't like the way his writing feels or speaks at me. I respect his craft - every word is there as a direct line between the reader and the events of the text. It's a very effective strategy. Still, golly gee, do I feel like his work talks past me, or maybe so directly to me it unnerves me. One of the two - either way, he's not my cup of tea. I prefer coffee.
That being said, in two different conversations this past weekend, I've had to explain some very good writing advice that Hemingway once gave. Though it grates on my nerves when people tell me to write like Hemingway would, I do hold one piece of his advice among my little box of writing tips. It's about motivation.
While you can read the full quote (and some more good ones) from this article, the best part boils down to this:
“The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop.”
In other words, never finish a day of writing at the end of one section and leave your future self to deal with a blank page or chapter title. Instead, either stop writing a few paragraphs from the end, or start the next section. That way, the next day, you can come back and jump into it right where you left off. You'll be excited to write down the words that have been sitting in your head for a while, and then it'll be easy to keep going. This strategy is helpful for any type of writing. I usually use it for my longer-form fiction, but it can be true for personal essays, short stories, or even academic essays.
Other writers and writer-supporters have given great advice as to how to battle with writer’s block (see the tasteful images linked below). It's all pretty good advice. You're bound to find something in there that works for you. But I think this Hemingway axiom actually points to a longer-term solution instead of just a motivational pep talk or coping strategy. Typical Hemingway, getting the job done in fewer words, right? Nip writer’s block in the bud by giving tomorrow’s you a point to jump into. Instead of looking for ways to break down the wall that writer’s block represents, don’t let the wall grow at all.
Written by Erika S.
Ciao from Rome! I’ve been in Italy for about three months now, and seeing Kristen’s post last week about children’s literature got me thinking about how much the books I read growing up have embellished my study abroad experience.
I, too, was one of those middle schoolers who spent her summer days surrounded by piles of books at the library, devouring as many novels as I possibly could. High school summers were spent the same way - though then it was usually reading in front of the pool instead of the library - and though I no longer have time to be the voracious reader I once was, I still try to spend my winter breaks curled up with good books as much as I can. I read so much because I love it, but I never could have imagined how much those books I read for fun would contribute to my travels abroad.
I’ve found that in Europe, where the history is so prevalent and so engrained in each city, you really are at a disadvantage if you aren’t already well-versed in a city’s culture when you travel there. More and more I find myself hearkening back to books I read to help me recall the history; interestingly enough, some of the novels that have provided me with the most background when I’ve been traveling are just random historical fiction books I read as a middle schooler.
In Berlin, Escape to West Berlin, a novel I read back in 4th grade, was my first ever introduction to the tragedy surrounding the Berlin Wall, and I recounted many of the scenes in the book as we walked through Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery, and the Topography of Terror on the trip. Copenhagen has me recounting Number the Stars, a book I read over and over in 3rd grade, which opened my eyes to the Nazi regime and, on a lighter note, gave me an overwhelming desire to visit the Tivoli Gardens one day. Reading The Diary of Anne Frank at a young age, also in 3rd grade, made my walk through the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam incredibly moving. The classic fantasy novel The Thief Lord has made me all the more excited to walk through the magical canals on my upcoming trip to Venice.
There are so many books I’ve read later in life - adult historical fiction or non-fiction books - that have also made a significant contribution to my understanding of the history in each new city to which I travel, but for some reason those children’s novels are so ingrained in my mind that it is those books that truly make my sightseeing all the more rewarding. Thus, I highly encourage anyone traveling or studying abroad to revisit those historical fiction books you loved as a child before you go! You can read all the guide books in the world, but I can say from experience that nothing beats the excitement of visiting a country or a tourist spot you’ve been reading about since you were a child.
Written by Bailey T.
Over Spring Break, my friend and I set ourselves a reading challenge: to complete all 1,079 pages of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest within the 10 days of academic rest. She finished it all in a week and I just finished it three days ago. Regardless of my technical failure, finishing the book at all felt like a win, and I would highly recommend it.
The book is a collection of vignettes concerning an interconnected group of Bostonians in an alternative near-future, in which the U.S., Canada, and Mexico have joined to become the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.). The novel is in part narrated by Hal Incandenza, a 17 year-old tennis prodigy and student. His sections expose the intense pressure of the competitive tennis environment and reveal the peculiarities of the Incandenza family. Other sections of the book focus on various characters in recovery at a nearby halfway house. There is also a persistent subplot concerning a group of Canadian separatists who carry out their terror plots using wheelchairs. Part family drama, part dystopian fiction, and part absurdity, Infinite Jest is entirely unique. It is deeply complex, but wholly entertaining.
A benefit of the book’s length and complexity is that just by sheer probability, it is likely to hit on something that appeals to you. Topics that are covered range from depression, to tennis, to addiction, to U.S.-Canada relations. There will be sections that you will think are just plain weird, but there will be other sections that will really speak to you. There’s really something in here for everybody.
However, as a person who likes to “get” books, this one was a real challenge. It is not the kind of book that allows you to read it once and put it away. It’s impossible to catch everything on the first read.
Falling down some Google rabbit holes helped clarify things a little. There are dedicated groups of “Jesters” who have invested a lot of time into trying to make sense of it. Some people publish different theories about the implications of the book’s ending. Other people have tried to categorize the information in the book to try to find patterns. There are maps marking the different locations in the book, and glossaries that list every appearance of every character and image. People have written graduate theses on this novel. If anyone tells you they totally understand this book, they’re probably lying to you.
On a personal note, this self-imposed challenge really reminded me of why I started to love books. I missed the feeling of reading like a kid, reading late at night under the covers, the way that books created entire worlds in my head. I even missed the way that reading took work because I might not know what some of the words meant. I didn’t understand everything, and there was no pressure to understand anything. I just read, and I liked the characters that I liked, and certain things appealed to me, and occasionally I stumbled on a sentence, but I really loved it.
I think a lot of times reading critically becomes a single-minded search for the correct, smart take-away. You need to finish the book, only to turn around and reduce the experience to its agreed-upon themes. Postmodern novels are great because no one fully understands them. Criticism has not yet condensed into the kind of neatly-packaged bullet points that suit a high school English class. There is no “right” thing to take away from the book. If you take away anything at all, you’ve succeeded. And believe me, you will take something away from this one.
I would highly recommend the book if you're looking to read something really different or looking for something to push your limits. You don't have to read the whole thing in a week (although it is humanly possible, if that appeals to you). And when you finish, regardless of when that is, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Written by Megan G.
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Ezra Pound, 1885 - 1972
Fall semester of my freshman year, I decided to get my feet wet in the English department by taking and introductory course on the rise of Modernism. One day we spent the better part of fifty minutes discussing Ezra Pound's In A Station of the Metro, shown above.
After class, I met my mom for lunch. She saw my print-out of the poem, a page on which the tiny body of the piece itself was dwarfed by my notes and scribbles, and she was curious. I recited the poem for her and she became confused.
“That’s it?” She asked, disliking it immediately, “The whole thing?”
I said yes and she could hardly believe it. She had many questions. Did we really spend the whole class discussing the poem? Was there something wrong with the poet? Why would anyone care so much about something so small? We spent the entire lunch talking about those three lines and what they might mean. I could hash out all the arguments I had to offer about the weight the poem’s diminished length, about Modernism and Pound’s role in establishing the school of Imagism, but none of those things could bring my mom to peace with it.
It might be worth mentioning that my mother is a petroleum engineer who loves romance novels but has never developed a fondness for poetry. She didn’t care about the historical significance of the piece and I didn’t try to justify it. Our joint analysis of the poem isn’t something I would want to put in an essay for any of my English classes, and yet every time someone asks me why I care so much about what I study here, I want to point them towards Pound and In a Station of the Metro.
This life is full of moments that linger and echo in strange ways. The conceptual entanglement of perception and meaning suggested by twenty words written a century ago can resonate throughout the narrative of your life indefinitely without resolution, or pass through you in an instant. My mom and I spent that afternoon going back and forth about the poem, and she took great pleasure in going home and sharing it with the rest of the family, most of whom are fellow poetry skeptics. She brought it up for weeks after our lunch, and still mentions it often when I visit home. I credit Pound with igniting a contrary passion for poetry in her that I doubt any other piece could have sparked. And after all this time and discussion, I still don't know if I like the poem itself, and neither does she. But my mother called me a few days ago and asked if I remembered the name of ‘that crazy little poem’, and I knew I wanted to write about it, to express a little gratitude and appreciation for the bizarre and beautiful literary forms that make my life stranger, richer, and better by existing in it.
So if any of you have stubborn mothers or relatives who claim to dislike poetry, maybe have them read In a Station of the Metro. See what they have to say.
Written by Cara B.
If you ever experience the frustrating mindset that is writer’s block, you know how tough it is to get your fingers typing again. Here are a few of my favorite ways to break through the wall, and finish the paper.
Written by Emma E.
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.
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.