Tag Archives: literature

Take A Look At What I’m Reading: Lovecraft and Sinclair


H.P. Lovecraft and Upton Sinclair both wrote about horrors – one played in the world of the imaginary and the other waded through the muck of reality. I wanted to read Lovecraft because he is an icon of classic horror and I recently read Richard Matheson, whose stories inspired Stephen King and have been made into television, movies, etc, and so I went even further back with Lovecraft, who created Cthulu and Arkham, which now lives on in the Batman universe. I remember reading a section of “The Jungle” early in high school and it was free on my Kindle, soooooo. I’m also super into social justice and such.

Lovecraft published all his stories in this pulpy fiction magazines and they are just packed with delicious cliches, like creepy crumbly castles, horrifying monsters, space creatures, cults, bad dreams, and reasonable-minded narrators who gradually go insane. It’s all very campy and fun. My favorite stories in the Lovecraft book are: “The Colour out of Space,” “The Thing on the Doorstep,” and “Dreams in the Witch-House.” “The Colour out of Space” is the story of a family whose land is strangely morphed by a mysterious meteorite-type rock that falls from space. The vegetation glows, grows bigger than normal, and moves without wind. The family also begins to exhibit strange behavior and a friend of theirs grows increasingly worried about their well-being. The fate of the family is horrifically mysterious. “The Thing on the Doorstep” involves possession; a man is convinced that his wife’s soul is switching bodies with him, and also that his wife isn’t quite human. When the “thing on the doorstep” is revealed in the story’s last paragraph, it is pretty deliciously creepy. “Dreams in the Witch-House” features a brilliant student who purposely rents a room where a witch lived many years before. He is a math genius, and believes that it is possible to open portals to other dimensions through knowledge of numbers. At first, he isn’t bothered by the room, but he then begins to see the ghost of the old woman and her little devil-creature. Night after night, they grow clearer and clearer, and the young man has strange dreams involving a cult that demands he sign a mysterious book in his own blood. What will happen to him?? Probably nothing good.

“The Jungle” is almost absurdly depressing, but it also rings so true, that it’s impossible to not feel moved. Unless you’re in denial about the evils of capitalism. The story is engrossing and even though it feels kind of unsatisfying  at the end (the last part of the book is essentially Sinclair’s defense of socialism), I really felt connected to poor Jurgis and his family.

Very different books, but both good reads.


First Love

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First love is a wholly unique and strange creature. It’s like seeing a new color or hearing an unfamiliar, but beautiful birdsong. Some run to it with open arms while others are more cautious, almost suspicious of their feelings and of this potentially untrustworthy thing. I was somewhere in between.

The first book I loved was Jacob Have I Loved, ironically enough. All my previous reading had been dominated by grand old fairy tales from every continent, Shakespeare, and classic fantasy. Sara Louise was unlike any of the women in those books. She was awkward, bitter, passionate. She wore overalls and spent her time crab-fishing and running around with her best friend, Call. She admitted her spite for her twin sister Caroline, who was adored by everyone. It was the first time I had seen jealousy – a real jealousy – written in such blunt terms. There is no concrete resolution of the twins’ relationship. It was puzzling to me. I knew happy endings didn’t always exist in real life, but in the books I’d read, it was always clear one way or the other. The prince marries the princess, Romeo and Juliet die, and the one ring is destroyed. Sara Louise’s story is more obtuse. It’s a story about identity and growing up. That honestly wasn’t clear to me at first. I finished the book feeling dissatisfied and a little lost. There was something there though. I was intrigued.

It wasn’t until some time later, in the midst of my own identity story, that my love for the little book set on an island called Rass fully bloomed. I too felt awkward, out of place, and overlooked by the world in favor of more confident girls, girls with blue eyes, straighter hair, longer legs, and sparkly lip gloss. I felt like Sara Louise. Finally, we understood each other.

Take A Look At What I’m Reading: “Quiet” by Susan Cain

ImageIt took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I found myself underlining a lot of statements and then whole paragraphs that perfectly described me.

I’ve always preferred to work alone and be left alone. All of my hobbies were solitary: puzzles, writing, and reading. Not much has changed since then. When I’m doing academic work, I need isolation; in high school, study hall was completely useless. When I had to write a long thesis-like paper, I got the paper done in half the assigned time because I worked alone during long periods of solitary time (to be fair, that was also the year I barely attended class, so while others sat in earth science, I was busy researching from the comfort of my couch).

The part that grabbed me was when Ms. Cain started discussing group dynamics and how introverts interact in them, and even how being in groups is considerably less efficient than working alone. It affirmed my dislike of working in groups. I had to do it all through high school, but my worst experience was in college, when we had to do a group presentation on a topic in my New Testament class. It’s always tricky to decide how to divide up group work; how can a presentation be coherent and streamlined with 3-4 different people each working at their own skill level and with their own unique style? It’s like asking a committee to design a horse; you always end up with a camel. We didn’t have much time for the presentation, so we each did our part without ever seeing the others. There was weird places where things overlapped, gaps, and one of the students in our group just decided it was the perfect time to go on a rant about an irrelevant topic he was passionate about. We got a low score and I remember thinking, “Duh. Group presentations just don’t work.”

In her book, Ms. Cain writes that studies keep coming up that show group brainstorming is not efficient, even though people who participate believe they performed better than they did in reality. Problems with group brainstorming are aplenty, including the tendency for extroverts to dominate the session while introverts withdraw and are less likely to bring forth their own ideas. I’ve worked with younger people and seen this in practice; extroverts will speak louder and quicker, which often means they haven’t thought about their ideas first. Introverts were quiet and needed more coaxing. Further in the book, Ms. Cain says a troubling fact is that even if an answer is wrong, mixed groups of both introverts and extroverts are more likely to believe it is right, even if individually they have decided upon the correct answer.

Luckily, in this age of the internet, online brainstorming in groups works really well, because people are basically still alone. There isn’t a fear of having to deal with people face-to-face or a sense of time running out. The internet is totally a good thing and I will challenge anyone who says otherwise.

Poetry: William Butler Yeats


I haven’t read a Yeats poem that I didn’t like. The children of creative people, it makes sense that Yeats went into creating art in his own way. He was influenced by his poet friends and a strong interest in mysticism. In 1923, Yeats was awarded the Noel Prize in Literature and was the first Irishman to win it. His personal life is very interesting to me, as it involves the seemingly “classic” problems that poets face when it comes to love, such as adoring a muse, being rejected by the one they love, and having lots of affairs, with much younger women specifically.

My favorite poem of his comes from the third section of a larger poem entitled “A Man Young and Old.” This is “The Mermaid.”

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.




thank God for jealousy

for yearning love


for loving silences, sharp knives

for nights of fire and punished crimes


thank God for sleeplessness

for the daily grind


for rat races, repetitive blame

for wide-ruled lines and waiting for rain


thank God for open wounds

for unhealed scars


for pink-rimmed eyes, pinched nerves

for lessons hard learned and prayers that went unheard

Poetry: Ingrid Jonker

Screen shot 2013-10-02 at 9.30.47 PMI’ve been writing poems since I was ten and poetry has been my primary expression of depression. Over the years, I’ve gotten more into reading different styles and about the lives of poets. Currently, my favorite poet is Ingrid Jonker, a South African poet who wrote during apartheid and whose tragic life has been compared to Sylvia Plath’s. I first discovered her work during research for a paper on the poetry of South African women.

Ingrid was a prolific and highly-recognized poet, but her personal life was always on the brink of collapse. She was rejected by her father for her political beliefs (he was on the board responsible for the censorship of art and literature) and had a series of intense and painful romantic relationships, one of which led to the birth of a daughter. In 1965, Ingrid walked into the ocean and drowned herself. Her most famous poem, known in English as “The Child,” was read by Nelson Mandela during the first meeting of the democratic parliament of South Africa in 1994.

The child is not dead
The child lifts his fists against his mother
Who shouts Afrika ! shouts the breath
Of freedom and the veld
In the locations of the cordoned heart

The child lifts his fists against his father
in the march of the generations
who shouts Afrika ! shout the breath
of righteousness and blood
in the streets of his embattled pride

The child is not dead not at Langa nor at Nyanga
not at Orlando nor at Sharpeville
nor at the police station at Philippi
where he lies with a bullet through his brain

The child is the dark shadow of the soldiers
on guard with rifles Saracens and batons
the child is present at all assemblies and law-givings
the child peers through the windows of houses and into the hearts of mothers
this child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere
the child grown to a man treks through all Africa

the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole world
Without a pass