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.
Veteran writers have been known to come up with witty replies to the question: I get my ideas from the Idea Shop down the road, or I’m subscribed to the Daily Ideas mailing list, or There is an Ideas Box hidden deep in my basement where I withdraw to seek inspiration. There is definitely no informative or useful way to answer this question. However, ideas can be obtained by actively seeking and recognizing inspiration from your surroundings and from within yourself. Here are some methods through which I find interesting, relevant and original ideas:
Newspapers & Magazines: Staying updated on what’s going on in the world is a foolproof method for staying inspired. Political trends and important current events can provide the spark you need to build complex storylines. For example, I recently read an article about the hurdles of inter-religious marriage, and that sparked in me the idea for a story about a boy and girl from warring communities who fall in love with each other, and, in a tragic twist, ultimately end up dying for their love.
Novels, Short Stories & Poems: Reading other people’s works doesn’t only provide you with loads of inspiration for character, plot and setting, but it also helps you become a better writer and gauge what is fresh or relevant. For example, I’ve noticed that in most fiction, there is a goal or objective which the characters aspire to, and a series of obstacles to it that shape their journey. That sparked in me the idea of writing a story with a destination, like a lighthouse that represents something different for every character, as its focal point. As they say, all good writers were first good readers.
Daily Life: It is often recommended that writers carry around a journal with them and develop the habit of noting down interesting things in their environment. The everyday things happening around you can provide the seed for your next story. The music blaring from my neighbors’ party made me imagine a story where the main character throws big and lavish parties, secretly in the hopes that the girl he likes will wander into one.
Personal Experience: The most relatable and emotional fodder for writing usually comes from the ups and downs of your own life. And it doesn’t all have to be heartbreak and gloom. It can be as simple as the time my friend set me up on a terrible date, which inspired me to write a story about a girl who is a matchmaker and likes to set up all her friends, but is completely unaware of her own feelings.
Dreams: Which brings us to the final, undeniable ocean of inspiration for all writers. Don’t listen to any of those people who tell you that dreams aren’t helpful when it comes to writing fiction, or that they don’t translate well to reality. How else would I have come up with the idea for my story about a school where kids learn magic and fight an evil lord to save the world?
Written by Sanvitti S.
I once heard a Ted talk. It discussed a monster that lives inside all of us. A monster that we despise, and a monster that we simultaneously cannot live without. This monster is both the bane of our existence, and also the one thing that makes our existence even moderately successful. Am I just making something up? Conjuring something from the depths of my imagination? No. This monster is backed up by psychological and evolutionary research. This monster has many names, shapes, and iterations. But you may commonly know him as the Panic Monster.
While Panic can cause many behaviors, some healthy, and some very unhealthy, I’m choosing to discuss one of the benefits of the Panic monster. It causes the brusque end of procrastination.
Procrastination: The beautiful method by which we trick our highly logical minds into believing that time doesn’t actually move forward. Where we insist that later is better than now, and that everything will magically fall into place. You continue to live your idyllic life, unbothered by the weight of responsibilities you have carefully trained your mind to ignore.
But though your mind is a flexible thing, able to accept lies and truth and accuse truth as being lies, your responsibilities are not quite as transient. They exist whether you believe them too or not. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and responsibilities don’t change just because you have changed your mind’s perception of them.
But then, when the carefully built charade is close to falling apart, when the tottering house of cards is about to come crashing down, something changes. Remember that monster? Well, it has been asleep. Lulled into a gentle slumber by your mind’s deceptions, the panic monster suddenly awakes to find a structure crumbling all around it. In a rage, it snaps itself awake and advances on the crevices of your brain, shaking them down like an Italian mob boss to a negligent tenant. Unwilling to be sedated any longer, the Panic monster comes into its full glory, forcing itself onto your mind and coercing you to act.
And suddenly you too snap awake, acutely aware to the painful reality that work has to be done and you have no yet done it. And as the panic monster activates your drowsy hypothalamus, sending a wave of adrenaline throughout your bloodstream, you find yourself suddenly able to jump into action, and perform whatever Herculean task you have to complete in this minuscule period of time.
You frantically work, setting aside all distractions, (usually), and devoting yourself to the task at hand, the Panic monster a slave driver, pushing you to work harder, better, stronger.
And then in some miraculous way, (although I don’t know if you can call you miraculous if it happens on a weekly basis), you finish your work, and collapse relived into the nearest chair. The monster has succeeded.
You notice your phone buzz. You look and see that you have a reminder to accomplish the next impending item on your to-do list. But you’re tired. You just finished so much work. You deserve a Netflix binge. After all, there’s so much time left. You have 4 whole days. That’s 96 entire hours! And so you curl up and turn on your TV
And as the light of the TV flickers in your dark room,
Your Panic monster slides back to sleep.
Patiently waiting to be awoken again.
(If you haven’t noticed, I procrastinated on this blog post)
Written by Joshua A.
“Complacency (n): a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.”
We all made it this far. We are all at one of the best universities in the nation. Most of us have done a variety of volunteer work, intensive research, various internships and are knowledgeable in more than one field. However, while most of us are this accomplished, a majority of the students still share the same problem: Lack of motivation.
I went to a village in India one summer to help at a local school for underprivileged kids. One would think that finding good teachers or collecting sufficient funds would be their main challenge, but when I reached there, I realized that the problem was a lot bigger than that: it was the mindset of the village children. Most of them just didn’t want to study. Having lived in their small village for 14-15 years, they had grown comfortable with living in poverty. They had accepted the fact that this is what life comprises of and had no will to change the circumstances. On my second day volunteering, I decided to go around the village and talk to the kids and their families. With every stop, the problem was the same. The parents would enroll them in school, but the kids just wouldn’t show up. Begging on the streets or selling things by the roadside was just a lot easier. That’s when I realized how dangerous complacency can be.
We, as the human species have evolved and built this whole world of technology, skyscrapers, sciences, and art because of our need to grow. Our need to fulfill our curiosity. Had we been complacent, there would be no smartphones, no concept of electricity, no rapid transportations, no urban cities, no internet for me to share my thoughts with any number of people with just one click. We grow because we are impatient, there is always scope for improvement and we won’t stop until we reach the end. This is what makes us better than any other living species. While we can apply this to our kind in general, can we apply this to our daily lives? Can we proudly say that we give in our best every day, so we can reach our maximum potential and achieve what we are capable of?
Just like those kids, we all too are only our effort away from what we can achieve. I wrote this post for all those who have so much potential but are wasting it away on TV shows and Netflix. Look around you, there is so much to learn and so much to do. Push your limits because real growth begins only when you step outside of your comfort zone.
You have achieved a lot, and while it is important to take pride in your accomplishments, always remember you are capable of so much more. “The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities” – Benjamin E Mays. Go out today with a renewed sense of purpose, and remember to never be lulled into complacency.
Written by Diksha G.
While I was thinking about what to post tonight, looking through old writing for inspiration, I stumbled upon some old poetry I wrote around this time last year. “a mi tierra y mi lengua” is an ode I wrote to my home—to the idea of missing it, after nine years away, and to the fear of losing grip of my first language. So, in honor of Latin Pub Night tonight, and the last few months during which I’ve spent a whole lot of time thinking about what it means to be an immigrant, here’s a little bit of my language and my home:
a mi tierra y mi lengua
motherland won’t tell you she loves you
without contact; without the feeling of her tongue
on your tongue or your tongue on the taste of her streets
in an outdated vernacular--
the arms of the avocado tree cradled you five years
in a row the way orchids lined her sunkissed valleys
who cradled earth and fog and holy land;
when tierra santa and Santo Domingo
rolled off mountainsides and tongues the same way
they could not come back to you.
she could not come back to you and she arrives
only temporarily – only it seems she hasn’t touched you
in nine years she hasn’t carried out the scent
of the local native marketplace:
now when she arrives, you forget
her tongue in the shapes of the avocado trees.
Written by Ana Paula Pinto
No one has time to write epic poems-- it’s finals week. So let’s scale back our length and talk about a short and sweet poetic form: the haiku.
Haiku are one of the easiest forms to remember. The only rule is that it must have a 5-7-5 syllable structure. Everyone knows this one. But to be honest, I couldn’t name a haiku before writing this blog post. Damn my euro-centric education. So I did some heavy duty research (lol no I did a few google searches) and here’s what I have to share.
The most-cited example of a haiku is by Matsuo Basho:
“An old silent pond...
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.”
Simple, but effective. Here’s another few I really liked:
“From time to time
The clouds give rest
To the moon-beholders.”
- Matsuo Basho
“Light of the moon
Moves west, flowers' shadows
- Yosa Buson
“Don’t weep, insects –
Lovers, stars themselves,
- Kobayashi Issa
And here’s one that every student can relate to: “I Want To Sleep” by Masaoka Shiki.
“I want to sleep
Swat the flies
A lot of traditional haiku have natural themes. They capture a fleeting moment of beauty.
So in the midst of the flurry of stress that is finals, take a moment, capture some beauty. Scribble a poem in the margins of your chemistry notes. It’s as simple as 5-7-5.
A Finals Week Haiku:
A quiet commons
Fresh sunlight soft on the ground
Written by Megan G.
When I finish a draft of something, I feel like a mad genius. Mad, because I suddenly become aware of the sheer amount of time it took to finish that thing. Also a genius, because I finished the thing, and no matter how many times I’ve read through the earlier sections pointing out plot holes to myself, finishing a draft of something is still finishing. It feels a lot like finishing.
I think this is a timely topic for two reasons. The first: yes, in fact, I did just finish a draft of something. I drafted the first book in a series about a year and a half ago, and over the summer, I decided to start re-drafting. After several weeks of telling my suitemates I would “probably finish this week,” finally, the draft is complete. I’ve written those fateful words, End Book 1.
Which brings me to the second reason this is timely: in three days, November will close, and with it will come the flurry of people who have won (or not) NaNoWriMo. Maybe you’re one of them! Good for you! Many people around the globe are about to experience that maddening, dizzy rush of having finished a long-term project – and feeling subsequently like a mad genius. The first thing that may be tempting for mad geniuses is to proclaim their success with an all-caps tweet or a dramatic Facebook post or an artsy Instagram/Snapchat photo with a delighted caption over the The End part. Or, if you’re like me, the word count (ugh). This is a fine goal! Go for it!
What you may be tempted to do next is to share your piping hot, straight-off-the-presses draft with every single person who liked your post or commented on your tweet. To this impulse, I would recommend letting the draft cool.
The first draft of something in particular (and, in my opinion, at least the second), represents an outpouring of work that is extremely valuable, but didn’t have the full scope of the project yet. You never really know what the last sentence of the book is going to be until you write the last sentence. You didn’t know if that foreshadowing you dropped in Chapter 2 that you intended to come up in Chapter 15 actually would come up in Chapter 15 – at least not while you were writing Chapter 2. Some breathing room and another read-through may point these things out to you right away.
So, dear mad geniuses, my recommendation is to pause. Take a deep breath before rapid-fire sending your long-term project to everyone you know. Put it in a drawer for at little bit. Start a new project. A few weeks, a month maybe down the line, pull that draft back out and read it front-to-back, either making comments on it or reading it without touching it. Then decide whether it’s something you want feedback on right now, or if there are major sweeping reforms to make, to the point where you’d be receiving feedback on ideas, characters, plot points, and scenes that you’ve already changed. Getting feedback on things you already intend to scrap might help in the abstract, and your readers might be able to point out things you can include in your second draft. They might also convince you to save something doomed for the chopping block, or cut something you thought was safe. If you’re proud of your first draft, for sure, get feedback on it! But, the most valuable feedback is that comment you weren’t expecting, that you as the author - the person who is supposed to know the book best - couldn’t find on your own. So take some time to get your distance, tame your genius, and look back over your work to decide: is my next step something I can do alone, or should I get help?
Written by Erika S.
Have you ever been itching to buy a thriller, but the ones at Half Price Books just won’t do? Do you ever get tired of downloading sketchy, badly formatted PDFs of classics like Agatha Christie, or getting a Trojan instead of an ePub of the newest Harlan Coben? Do you want to buy books with fascinating titles, like Fudge and Jury and No Cats Allowed, along with cool merch like book-inspired handmade t-shirts?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should venture outside the hedges and stop by Murder by the Book!
This bookshop opened in 1980, making it one of the nation’s oldest and largest mystery specialty bookstores. But their selection goes beyond mere mysteries, as they sell an incredible amount of thrillers, sci-fi stories, and fantasy novels. They also have a cool selection of novelty items, magazines, and some really awesome t-shirts (this blog post writer is still hyped over her new Margaret Atwood shirt).
But beyond their book selection, what makes Murder by the Book special is its ambience. The shop is packed full of interesting things and interesting people. There are very comfortable old leather chairs and sofas just begging you to curl up on them with a nice murder mystery, and since the shop is crammed full of bookshelves in bewildering configurations, it is very easy to literally lose yourself among them. If you do, don’t worry—the employees are wonderful, and always willing to lend a hand or give out recommendations.
But assuming that all of this is not enough to convince you that Murder by the Book is worth a visit, then how about this: they host book signings. Frequently.
Almost every week they bring some author to the shop, which offers students like me the opportunity to go to book-related events without having to travel too far from campus. Just last week I went there to see Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, co-creators of the hit podcast Welcome to Night Vale, who were there for their new novel’s book tour. The event was well organized, but since the space is quite small, I’d recommend getting there early. The way Murder by the Book does their events, you first get about an hour of conversation between the author(s) and a moderator, and then a Q&A session. Afterwards, there’s the book signing. The shop’s employees are also very nice about taking pictures of you in case you came to the event alone.
A final consideration I hinted at before: if you live at or near Rice, Murder by the Book is just a half-hour walk away. Located on the outer edge of Rice Village, on 2342 Bissonnet Street, it’s surrounded by a pretty residential area and very accessible by foot or by bike.
Long story short, if you’re into mysteries or even if you’re not, Murder by the Book is worth a visit. The books, the people, the merch, the events: if you like books in any way, shape, or form, there’s definitely something for you. After all, as the store’s tagline says, this bookshop is a place where a good crime is had by all. So why not give Murder by the Book a try?
Just remember: stay sexy, read books, and don’t get murdered.
Written by Mariana N.
April is the cruelest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain.
-T. S. Eliot
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.