We’re coming up on finals season now and with all those essays and problem sets, it can be hard to gather up the energy to read something for fun. But if you’re still hankering for something literary, worry not: Netflix has been outdoing itself with a steady stream of high-quality book adaptations that are sure to take your mind off GenChem, senior design, or Orgo. Want all A’s? Look no further, because I’m sure one of these is sure to fit the bill.
1. A Series of Unfortunate Events
If these strangely pessimistic, uniquely verbose, darkly comical books weren’t a part of your childhood, you’re still in good time to become a fan of Lemony Snicket and the Baudelaire children with the brilliant Netflix adaptation that is now in its second season. Originally thirteen books, each one is split into two hour-long episodes that perfectly capture Snicket’s sharp wit and cynicism as they narrate the tragic story of precocious orphans Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. This adaptation includes details of the intricate plot that previous adaptation have glossed over and perfectly captures the steampunk gloom of the original books. Featuring a star-studded cast with big names such as Neil Patrick Harris as antagonist Count Olaf and Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket, this show is sure to ruin your day in the best way.
Based on the strange science fiction novel by Jeff VanderMeer, this movie starring Natalie Portman is a slow-budding, aesthetically beautiful work that leaves you strangely satisfied, even if it does raise more questions than answers. Centred around an all-female group of scientists that ventures into a The Shimmer, a wildland from where no previous research time has returned, Annihilation is filled with shifting landscapes, vivid colors, and strange creatures. Although the film deviates quite significantly from the novel, its great cast, soothing soundtrack, and amazing visuals make it a more than worthwhile watch.
3. Alias Grace
This Canadian-American adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name is, in my humble opinion, the only one of these three titles that by far surpasses the original literary version. Centered around accused murderess Grace Marks, the Netflix miniseries organizes the confused and rather underdeveloped narrative from the novel into a coherent, riveting narrative that leaves you on the edge of your seat. Combined with a stellar cast and well-executed plot twists, this is a nice and easily bingeable series perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, period dramas, or psychological murder mysteries.
That’s all for now, folks. Happy finals!
Written by Mariana N.
We all know the story – there are a LOT of things we always say we would like to do, but we never get around to doing it during the school year. Well, Spring Break is next week, and it’s an incredibly valuable time to reset for the remainder of the spring semester. In my experience, resetting can best be accomplished by finding one of those things that were “too difficult” to fit into the hectic semester and do them now.
So, looking over our staff’s recommendations from this semester, here are 4 challenges for Spring Break to help you reset and check off your 2018 literary awareness list:
1. See an art exhibit
If you’re a Rice student hanging out in Houston over the week, you’re going to want to get off-campus and out into a new part of town. Rice is right next to a number of great art exhibits and permanent collections of art, music, and literature. Check out, for instance, our recent review of the Station Museum of Contemporary Art. If you haven’t been to the Menil, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the other staples of the museum district, why not check them out now? Or head to more specialized museums like the Contemporary Arts Museum, the Art Car Museum, or the Printing Museum.
2. Find a new form of expression
This sounds vague, but there are a lot of cross-medium artists and writers out there, and what better time than Spring Break to open up a new genre of information and expression? Some of our recommendations in the past have included social media poets (https://www.r2ricereview.com/blog/social-media-poets), or other formal styles of poetry (like Haikus and Villanelles). Lastly, if you’re not a podcast type of person, this is a great time to try to see if you could be a podcast type of person (see recommendations here: https://www.r2ricereview.com/blog/category/podcasts).
3. Just crack open a new book
We’ve reviewed books a lot on this blog, ask you might expect. While it can sometimes be possible to find the time to read lighter, breezy books, Spring Break might be your opportunity to get through one of the books that demands a lot of your emotional energy. Check out some more meaningful books here: or challenge yourself to a longer book, like Infinite Jest (which, by the way, is how I spent Spring Break 2017, and 10/10 recommend).
4. Visit new libraries and independent bookstores!
There are great independent bookstores all over the world, no matter where your travels take you. The same goes for libraries, which can be unique and really great places to just spend a morning or afternoon. If you’re staying in Houston and haven’t already, this is a great time to take a look at Brazos Bookstore, Murder by the Book, and bookstores that we haven’t even had the chance to cover.
These are just some suggestions and recommendations to get your ideas going. If none of these stand out to you, check out our other reviews of literature, film, art, and culture in general by clicking around the Recommendations tag of our blog, or come up with your own! Happy reset week!
Written by Erika S.
Art that helps me see and address my shortcomings:
Fear of Failure/Self-Doubt → Confidence
These are a few of the mediums that have influenced how I think about failure. My attitude of persistence and tenacity has been defined in part due to the below books, poetry, and music. My optimistic and cheerful mien can also be attributed to the art I am exposed to.
Good Enough by Paula Yoo (book)
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (book)
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (book)
"What Kind of Asian Are You?” by Alex Dang (poetry)
“Packing for the Future” By Lorna Crozier (poetry)
“Best Day of My Life” by American Authors (music)
Spotlight: Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume (book)
This is a book I read in the 3rd grade, from which I learned to embrace what makes me different. The main character in this book, Cornelia, is the lonely child of two musicians, who find solace in words. Cornelia’s aptitude for language sets her apart from her peers, but finds herself a friend in a new neighbor, an elderly woman who regales Cornelia with tales from her youth. I wouldn’t define myself as shy, but similar to Cornelia, I find it difficult to connect with others easily. This book taught me to put myself in difficult, uncomfortable situations, and gave me the confidence to be more outgoing.
Procrastination → Smart Work
I am and always have been a hard worker. However, a lesson I still struggle to learn is how to work smart, not hard. Smart work, entailing time management and organization, is the key to success in not only school, but also everything else I am involved in, from playing tennis to playing my clarinet. Below are a few mediums that have taught me to redefine what I view as work and understand the implications of procrastination. While I still struggle daily to practice the concept of delayed gratification, these have inspired me and have given me the tools to change my habits.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (book)
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (book)
“Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” by Tim Urban (TED Talk)
Gifted Hands by Ben Carson (book)
The Thinker by Auguste Rodin (sculpture)
Spotlight: “Postcard” by Frank Ticheli (music)
This uniquely challenging piece was one I played with my band in 10th grade. Up to date, it is the hardest piece of music I have successfully performed, and it represents months of practice and dedication. This piece represents the difficulties and joys of the learning process; to learn a skill or concept, we must always start with the basics, no exceptions, and once learned, the skill/concept must be practiced until flawless.
Stubbornness and Hubris → Selflessness and Empathy
Pride and a single-minded focus are not necessarily bad, if one also practices the complementary traits of selflessness and empathy. My difficulty is finding the balance. To what extent should I remain uncompromising and driven by self-interest, and to what extent must I sacrifice what I want to what is right? These mediums, especially The Mahabharata, help me understand not only the facets of my personality, but also my role in society.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck (book)
“Stories of Akbar and Birbal” (animated cartoons)
The Onion (website)
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (play)
Heidi by Johanna Spyri (book)
Bhagavad Gita (ancient epic/book)
Spotlight: The Mahabharata (ancient epic/book)
I consider myself to be religious person, and one reason for this is that I believe that religion provides us with a moral compass and general guidelines on how to live. Having been raised with the stories of Lord Rama, Krishna, and the Pandavas, I feel that it is only natural that I take these stories to heart and allow them to shape my view of myself and the world. Reading the Mahabharata, an ancient epic that describes a war between the families (the Kauravas and the Pandavas) of two brothers, I was taught the dangers of arrogance, jealousy, and lack of discipline. I was also taught that what is right for me may not be right for someone else- the concepts of right and wrong are not as easily defined as I naïvely believed them to be.
Written by Sree Y.
Thoughts on the Cultural and Personal Value of ‘In(di)visible’ at The Station Museum of Contemporary Art
The Station Museum of Contemporary Art, as I wrote the first time I wrote for this blog, is the kind of space that contextualizes art in order to inspire deep cultural and ideological impact. With their new show, In(di)visible, The Station has once again pulled together an art exhibition that does just that and more.
I think about it even now, weeks after I attended the opening with a couple of friends. I remember that on the ride home from the museum that night, the three of us sat in complete silence, each of us drawn into ourselves like springs retracting after being stretched too far. Looking for some kind of reconciliation with our feelings through an understanding we were not very likely to find. That sense of pulling, at least for me, began the moment we walked through those gallery doors. It was the effect of being drawn into and through an exhibition operating on a multitude of artistic, emotional, and intellectual levels. It was the kind of show that forces you to think, to feel, and then to repeatedly challenge those thoughts and feelings.
It would be worthless to try to describe the exhibition itself, for at the core of its ability to so deeply impact the viewer is the way in which each piece so intimately conveys its own narrative as a part of the larger story, through the physical space and in conversation with the viewer. It is a story that needs to be told personally, the kind that gains meaning only by virtue of its being told and retold, given a space in which to exist. This is how it creates change on an individual level, in hope for change on a higher, cultural level. It gives voices to those previously silenced and challenges the unilateral narrative that is Western history. It is the tales of the old and the young, first and second generation immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and more, told from a variety of perspectives and conveying a multitude of ideologies. These are the stories of the subaltern set center stage. In action, this exhibition is the very embodiment of its name—the act of unifying ‘invisible’ people and giving them absolute autonomy in the telling and creating of their past, present, and future.
To walk through this exhibition, then, is to engage the entirety of your humanity with the humanity of their experiences. To feel time and space collapse somehow when history is terrifyingly similar to the present. Although not Asian, as an immigrant myself I found that this exhibition forced me to look into a part of that experience I had been reluctant to challenge before. And thus, with my head against the car window on that exceptionally foggy night, riding down dimly lit streets that all looked almost the same, I found that the ambiguity of space right then was ironic. I couldn’t help but think, over and over, about why it hurts us so much. Why, when space changes, and cultures converge, we are so afraid. Why we are forced to choose between cultures, between nations, between mother lands and mother tongues and places and languages that are new to us.
I cannot say that I have any answers, although I feel at least closer to at least understanding where these challenges come from and why they matter. And so I would say that, regardless of your thoughts or knowledge on immigration, Asian American culture and history, and even art, these are questions worth asking, and this exhibition is one worth seeing.
Written by Ana Paula P.
This December, the personal goal I set for myself was to read through books that fell into the weird, not-really-a-genre-genre of magical realism. A quick Google search of “Best Magical Realism Books” pulls up results that pull books from and about authors and cultures all over the globe. Some repeat-offenders on these lists include One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, various works by Toni Morrison and Haruki Murakami, and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. These are all excellent authors and books, and all of them made my short reading list. As well, starting to recognize some of these big names drew me to my favorite book of at least the last six months, Salman Rushdie’s newest novel, The Golden House.
The Golden House follows a young film-maker, who introduces himself to the reader as simply René, living in a wealthy and insular community in New York. René finds himself drawn into the folds of the mysterious Golden family: the criminal-seeming Nero Golden, his new wife Vasilisa, and Nero’s three sons, Petya, Apu, and D. Fascinated by the people he has encountered, René tells their story both in context with himself and as part of the “mockumentary” he has planned around them. As such, the book is a mixture of the family’s events, René’s depictions of events he does not see (done in screenplay format!) and accounts of him working on the screenplay with other characters. The pieces come together in a fascinating sort of meta-commentary on the art of storytelling in three different layers: René hears stories told orally from the Goldens, which he recounts as bits of film, which are told to the reader by venue of the novel. So, that’s number one: if you’re interested in film, or how film and prose work together, this novel spends a lot of time investigating that relationship.
Number two is the characters themselves. The book sets up equally provocative relationships between René and each of the five members of the family; he is almost like a sixth family member, who has secret ties to each one. He gets to safeguard their fears, desires, and frustrations, sometimes even the feelings they have towards one another. And each one of the five family members is a hot mess. The Golden House is able to explore a huge number of topics and human questions from these characters psychologies. I was shocked and excited by how quickly the book could transition the reader from protests against Wall Street to discussions about gender identity, from the criminal underworld to the top of the iPhone app best sellers list.
Which brings me to reason number three why this book was so engaging: it is, as snooty as the phrase may be, a zeitgeist novel. (For those of you who don’t know the word, as I didn’t for like 20 years of my life, zeitgeist is from the German Zeit (time) + Geist (ghost/spirit), so it literally breaks down into “the spirit of the times.”) Its events span from Barack Obama’s election in 2008 to Donald Trump’s election in 2016. It is therefore completely full-to-bursting with statements and impressions about the time we are currently living in. It comments on political issues without allowing them to take over the entire book. (My personal favorite part is that it only refers to Trump as “The Joker” the entire time.) But it also looks at what New York, especially affluent and artistic New York, has become over the past decade. A warning, though: the book is also a screenshot of a affluent New York artist, so the texture of events can occasionally be drowned out in pages of allusion to antiquity or the classics of film and literature. Just as much as New York bleeds out of the pages, the consciousness of a highbrow narrator bleeds across them. René and the characters he meets often converse and think about things in terms of other things. References are everywhere; but you don’t need to understand them really. They’re merely part of the aesthetic texture of the book, which is rich with wisdom but also with the psyche of a very particular swath of recent human activity.
So, to recap, why I liked this book so much:
Oh, also, it’s just, like, good at being a book. Its story has a kind of epic grandeur to it. The book is long, but worth it. When I reached the end, I was impressed with the sort of antique poetic flourish that the whole book was. I hope you consider spending some time with this lovely book soon, and if you do, come talk to me about it!
Written by Erika S.
Maybe you’ve heard your friends talking about listening to podcasts while they work out or walk to class. Maybe someone you know has mentioned how it seems like “everyone has a podcast nowadays!” From Russell Brand and Snoop Dogg to Lena Dunham and Tyler Oakley, hosting podcasts has become a veritable craze in the past few years as people have realized from listening to classics like This American Life and Serial that podcasts are more than just on-demand talk shows or audio stand-up comedy. They’re a veritable art form that has room for just about anything under the sun in terms of subject matter, style, and format.
Since the podcast boom, finding podcasts that fit one’s interests, are pleasing to the ear, and haven’t been discontinued can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Not every podcast works for everyone, and genres intersect so much whilst formats vary so widely that it’s difficult to sort through all the options to find something you like. This post is meant to be an introduction to podcast classics that were or still are at the top of the charts, because that says a lot about their appeal to the general public. In the future, I’ll make more genre-specific recommendations, but if you’re new to podcasts, these are certainly some shows I’d 100% recommend you check out so you can kind of get an idea about what you sort of content you may like to listen to in the future. (All of them are available on the Apple Podcasts app or on Stitcher!)
The titan that started it all, brought to you by the creators of This American Life. If you ever ask someone about podcasts, odds are they’ll ask, “Have you heard about Serial?” This true-crime, investigative journalism podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig has two seasons out right now, each focused on a different crime. The first follows the trial that put teenager Adnan Syed in prison in 2000, whilst the second covers the desertion and subsequent abduction of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl. An easy podcast to get hooked on, Serial’s short seasons and effective storytelling make it an easy, captivating listen and have kept it on iTunes’ top 20 since its release in 2014.
#2 Welcome to Night Vale
Imagine the weird small town vibes from Twin Peaks, a dose of surreal romance straight out of Black Mirror’s San Junipero, and the weird science from Fringe, all wrapped up in a radio show format hosted by the dulcet baritone voice of Cecil Baldwin, the best voice actor you’ve never met. Created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Night Vale is an ongoing audiodrama that’s been on iTunes top 50 since its debut in 2012. This one is...hard to explain, but if you like mysteries, indie music, and stories where the paranormal is really the normal, give this one a try.
#3 My Favorite Murder
This show centers on true crime, but with a comedic twist, representing the other approach to true crime commonly found in podcasts when they aren’t following Serial’s investigative example. Hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, every week these women each pick a murder or crime story and tell it to each other, creating a cathartic outlet for the morbid fascination with murders a lot of people have but never talk about. These ladies add positive vibes to every episode without ever crossing the line into being disrespectful about the crimes they’re retelling, and really do manage to make every episode hilarious, heartfelt, and intense, all at the same time.
#4 Stuff You Should Know
Part of the insanely instructional HowStuffWorks network, this show gives you a 40-60 minute crash course on nearly everything you can think of. Impeachment and internships? Yep. The history of soda? You got it. Jack the Ripper? Of course. Hosted by Charles “Chuck” Bryant and Josh Clark, these two guys are gonna calmly guide you through everything you should ever know. Not one you need to listen to in order, this podcast is ideal for picking and choosing episodes on subjects you’re interested in or just letting the playlist roll if you’re ever having trouble sleeping. Even though these dudes crack jokes often, their voices are so mellow that this is a relaxing or naptime podcast if there ever was one.
Lore is another titan that has now even been adapted to an Amazon series and a book collection. Usually 20-30 minutes long, each weekly episode (all written and hosted by excellent narrator Aaron Mahnke) contains a mix of folklore and urban legends centered around a particular theme, like vampires, ghost ships, or strange childbirth stories. Always well researched and with a great ambience thanks to a selection of background music and creepy sound effects, Lore is spooky, captivating, and informative. A definite must-listen if you’re into the paranormal and/or appreciate the more can-you-believe-this? side of history.
Each of the previous podcasts is emblematic of a particular popular genre of podcast, but is by no means the standard nor the norm, so if you like the idea of one of these podcasts but don’t enjoy listening to the show itself, odds are there’s something similar out there that might do the trick. Expect more recommendations in future posts, but for now, check these shows out. Great for working out, commuting, or just passing the time, podcasts are a good way to both entertain yourself and usually learn a little something along the way.
Written by Mariana N.
Happy Groundhog Day (1993, dir. Harold Ramis)! Here’s a review of a different movie.
I have to preface this review of Thelma (2017, dir. Joachim Trier) by disclosing to the reader that I had a little bit of a personal bias before I sat down to watch this movie. Not because I felt one way or the other about any of the movie-makers or the subject of the film, but because I had to endure the harrowing experience of walking from Brown College to the Rice Media Center by myself in the dark in 118% humidity. I didn’t take the bus because I was paranoid about being late and I thought it would be faster to walk than to wait for the bus. (It was a 40 minute walk due to me going to two of the wrong buildings.) (I was still a half hour early.)
Thelma was disarming in its beauty. I’m not usually married to certain mediums of presentation for art, but I do think there was something worthwhile about seeing this movie on the big screen. I feel like you see a window shatter on your phone screen, and think, “a window shattered,” you see a frozen lake on your laptop screen and think, “yeah, that sure is a lake.” You see the mountains of Norway on a 20-foot screen and think, “20 feet and they still can’t fit the whole mountain in the frame?” You see a frozen lake in your entire field of vision and you feel like you could press your cheek against the ice. I don’t know if I was just sitting too close to the screen, but when I saw that window shatter I flinched. Even if the movie didn’t have subtitles, I think I would have been content to just sit back and let the images happen to me.
Plot-wise, Thelma strays far enough from convention that it’s enjoyable to a variety of audiences without being too disjointed: if you want an art film, it’s an art film with more than one line of dialogue every 10 minutes, if you want a psychological drama, it’s a psychological drama with some levity and romance, if you want a superhero origin story (which it has been called by other critics) it’s...kind of like that? I mean, the only superhero movie I’ve seen to the end was one of Andrew Garfield’s Spiderman movies in my freshman year of high school, but somehow I know that these aren’t exactly the same type of movie. I think superhero movies could be like Thelma if they tried, though. Basically, I don’t know if you’ll like Thelma enough to walk forty minutes in the dark to see it, but if that ends up being the case for you, I don’t think you’ll be too torn up about it once the movie ends.
Written by Rynd M.
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.
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.