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.
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.
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!
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)
For the entirety of this semester, I have been trying to read one book (an ambitious goal for an English undergrad, I know). The book sits on my desk with a bookmark a laughable third of the way through. While I’ve finished more books this semester than I ever have, I can’t get through this one. The wrinkles around the crushed base of its spine look like a furrowed brow.
The book is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I honestly can’t really offer a good summary (the Wikipedia page makes a good effort: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Leaves), but the bare bones of the story involve a mysterious death, Russian-nesting-doll-like layers of stories and their narrators, a lost documentary about a hallway, and a house that defies the laws of physics.
It belongs to a class of books termed “ergodic literature”. This format requires extra work on the part of the reader. You have to search through the piece to read it properly, perhaps skipping forward or backward, or turning the book around to see the words. In House of Leaves, this ergodic element comes in the form of misplaced text and footnotes. So many footnotes. Sideways footnotes, hidden footnotes, footnotes in different languages. Footnotes with their own footnotes, footnotes left by different narrators. Footnotes that spiral outwards from the center of the page, footnotes that are poems and pictures, footnotes that cite books that don’t exist.
That is what’s amazing about this book: it can’t be reduced. It is dependent on the format that it takes. The experience of reading it is so integral to what the book actually is that you can’t separate the two. It defies Cliffs Notes and eBook format. In an age that prizes convenience and digital, there is something so fascinating about forcibly returning to the analog. It feels like a new genre, yet it takes an almost old-fashioned approach.
I’m wading through the book at a snail’s pace. The plot and the format require it. It’s confusing and challenging and convoluted, but incredibly immersive. It makes me think about the physicality of reading. Searching through the footnotes makes me feel like part of the story. I am confused along with the characters. I explore the mystery with them. When they do research in the story, I do research, too. The confusing layers of narrators couple with this ergodic effect to blur the lines between the reader and the story to create something that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Reading in small chunks is new for me. I’m a self-professed speed reader. I can honestly say that I have never been so defeated by a book. But I really, really have enjoyed it. While reading slowly originated in my frustration, it has morphed into a kind of purposeful rationing. I like this story and I don’t want it to be over. I’m saving it, savoring it.
Reading in a new way and challenging myself has made me fall more in love with books all over again. A lot of times, I think we tend to limit ourselves when it comes to literature. We say “I like this kind of book” or “I read in this way” and then self-confirm by seeking out only what we know. But the experience of reading outside of your comfort zone is too good to pass up.
So if you feel stuck in a rut with your reading or writing, try something different! Try a new format. Read a different genre, or read in a different way. Think about the process and purpose of reading in a new way. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, pick up an ergodic novel. You won’t regret it.
Written by Megan G.
When moving across the country this summer from Seattle, WA, to Houston, TX, I had to pack up my entire life into a few boxes. Clothes were easy; I was able to leave the parkas and wooly hats at home. Books on the other hand, I saved until last, unable to execute the inevitable downsizing that my library required. I had decided to choose from my floor to ceiling bookshelf just ten books to make the cross-country trip with me to my dorm room. The last thing I did before I left was carefully select this group, like a well-balanced Spotify Playlist. I tried to mix books I had read thousands of times with ones I hadn’t even cracked the spine on. I placed fun five-minute reads next to heavier, more serious books to match my future moods. In the end, these are the ten books that made it into my U Haul box:
1) As You Like It, William Shakespeare
Why: A Shakespearean classic, and also one of the few I haven’t read, As You Like It was the first book tossed into the box. It sits on my shelf in order to inspire me to one day read an unassigned Shakespeare play.
2) Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Why: This book serves as a little bit of a reminder of home for me, as this was the first book I read in freshman English with my all time favorite high school teacher. I also love dystopian novels, and this one is a classic.
3) The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Why: Sylvia Plath’s haunting handle on emotional turmoil can sometimes be cathartic to read, and though the subject matter can make for upsetting and not exactly pleasant reading, her prose always draws me in.
4) The Gene, Siddhartha Mukherjee
Why: What kind of Biochemistry-English double major would I be if I didn’t have a biography of a gene in my bookshelf? This book expertly combines compelling stories with real information, and avoids the dense downfall of most scientific writing, so you look smart and learn something while still enjoying the writing.
5) Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham
Why: Sometimes I just want to read something for fun, and Lena Dunham’s comedic memoir is a perfect pick me up. At the same time, this book’s feminist messages are empowering.
6) Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Why: While this book will never thrill me in the way it did when I first read it, by pulling an all-nighter to get to the big reveal, it’s still a page turner. Everyone needs a bit of excitement in his or her library, and I can always count on this book to provide that for me.
7) We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo
Why: This book was my “something new”. I bought it the day before I flew out to Houston. The idea of having an entirely untouched book in my collection was exciting, and a friend who knows me very well recommended this book, so I look forward to reading it.
8) Internal Medicine, Terrence Holt
Why: This is the book that made me want to be a doctor. It doesn’t glamorize medical professions a la Grey’s Anatomy, but instead shows you the nitty-gritty side, as real as it can get without violation patient confidentiality. While the subject matter is what drew me to this book, it’s also one of the best-written doctor’s memoirs I’ve found in a while.
9) Looking for Alaska, John Green
Why: As a busy college student, sometimes I need a book I can fly through in an hour, and Looking for Alaska is that for me. I’ve read it so many times that I can skim the whole thing and still understand it, but still get the escapism of living in a different world that books provide for me.
10) And of course, a copy of R2
While these books might not appeal to you for the same reasons that they do to me, they’re all great, and I recommend them to anyone. Or, if none of these appeal to you, start building your own well-balanced college bookshelf.
Written by Emma E. ('20)
Now that autumn is upon us, what better time to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and some great speculative fiction? If you ever find yourself searching for a great new read, keep an eye out for the following titles:
A Tale of Love, Pain, and Sacrifice
What if you had the power to take away people’s pain and absorb it as your own? What if someone else could remove all your physical and emotional pain? Would you let them? What if you could live free of pain for the rest of your life?
It’s not often in which I come across a book that actually impacts me, a book that I’m unable to put down and even afterwards, I find myself overcome with emotion for days on end. Such a book that I had the privilege of reading is called Bruiser, a beautiful tale spun by the masterful storyteller Neal Shushterman. I came across it by complete chance after exploring the bookcases of my high school library in search of a new read and noticing its acqua-colored spine protruding from the shelves. This dark and twisting yet emotionally gripping story is chronicled from four characters’ perspectives: Tennyson, the athletic high school jock who is blinded by his arrogance; his twin sister, Brontë, who lets her sensitivity and romantic character influence her decisions; Bruiser, the loner at school whose large size and intimidating demeanor have led to his reputation as the school bully, a circle of rumors to constantly surround him, and a “Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty” vote by his peers; and finally his younger brother, Cody, who lives freely in a world of innocence. When Brontë decides to spend time with Bruiser and eventually date him, much to the school’s shock and Tennyson’s fury, she and Tennyson begin to learn more and more about Bruiser, ultimately shattering their preconceived judgments of him in ways that will haunt them. After discovering Bruiser’s horrifying secret and why he is known as “Bruiser” rather than his real name, Tennyson and Brontë, along with Bruiser himself and Cody, undergo a profound journey that none of them anticipated, one that will change the course of their lives forever.
This heartwarming yet thought-provoking book explores love, courage, pain, and trust. It is a journey of change, self-awareness, and above all self-sacrifice, in which the characters ponder questions about sacrifice and friendship. Shushterman forces his readers to think deeply about life, relationships, and how far one would be willing to go for love. What I found fascinating was how the characters’ distinct narrations effectively work together to create a believable, powerfully deep tale that make the characters come alive: Tennyson’s humorous and cocky attitude that changes as he transforms from cruel to caring, Brontë’s insistence that Bruiser is misunderstood and her naive desire to love and protect him that is tested by the harsh realities of life, and Cody’s exuberant words that offer a nostalgic reminder to the readers of their long-lost childhood innocence. But the ultimate power lies in Bruiser’s perspective, narrated in the form of free verse. The use of poetry adds a unique voice to the story, an artistic retelling of the world’s cruelties through a broken teenager’s lens. The poetry causes his sufferings and his attempts to comprehend why people treat each other the way they do to be incredibly relatable. It somehow makes the impossible seem believable.
Bruiser seems like a simple story of high school drama in the beginning, yet it almost immediately darkens and develops into so much more. It is a tale of what it means to have hope in a world that requires us to be constantly selfless. It is a story about the will to love, to break our boundaries and let love in, to learn what it means to love selflessly and to do what is right despite the consequences. The book also explores other issues - alcohol, divorce, and so many family and social issues that affect people, especially children, on a daily basis. Bruiser is painful to read at times yet upon finishing it, you will be left overcome with emotion and a rethinking of your entire life. While it will undeniably leave a bruise on your heart, it will be a marking of self-awareness, rediscovery, and a desire to reevaluate the world in a way that you’ll want to preserve forever.
Written by Sarah 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.