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Archive for the tag “literature”

Book Blurbs (Coffee: Epic of a Commodity by E. H. Jacob)

Coffee: The Epic of a Commodity by E.H. Jacob (1935), translated by Eden and Ceder Paul (1998) is an economic history of a popular product. Jacobs begins with a story about some Arab monks who observed the energized manner of goats, and from these goats discovered coffee and it’s regenerative effects. From this Islamic monastery, Jacobs traces the life of coffee as a commodity until 1931, when trade forces compelled the Brazilian government to burn vast quantities of coffee.

epic of a commodity

epic of a commodity

In the post script, Jacobs writes that, “Much that I had intended to include has slipped through the meshes of my net, because its inclusion would have confused the general impression, and because it was a refractory element. Not every interesting fact can be woven into a comprehensive survey like the present.” (pg 283).

Jacobs, E.H. Coffee: The Epic of a Commodity. 1935. Trans. Eden & Cedar Paul. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2015. Print.

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A Writer

Am I a writer?

I haven’t published in over a month, my journal is out of date, my reading neglected, and my next novels languish as half-written sentences and outlines.

Yet I have the gall to tell people I meet that I am a writer.

I give the usual excuses for not placing pen to paper and not opening the computer: I’ve been busy lately; I’m working full time and moving; and, I do think about my stories all the time.

Am I a writer if I neglect my writing in favor of thinking?

I’ve heard that Milton dictated Paradise Lost and never inked a quill; that Joyce spent days thinking over a single sentence; that Austen thought works into being that are subtle critiques of her society. They are called writers, so maybe a Writer is someone who cares for their language and thinks before they pen.

I wonder if they feared to disturb the Universe?

Am I writer if I let life and fear prevent me from writing?

When faced with the uncertainty of the future I find my pen quaking and futility sprawling across my pages. The Universe is far too vast to be disturbed by the symbols of my small ideas, and the marks a mortal leaves are faint, washable things.

Even so, after a while I find my muse nudging me back to the pages and urging me to record her stories and poetries, and to form a linguistic image from the material granted me.

“Silence is a call to reflect” she tells me, “neglect is a chance to care, and forgetfulness the moment to remember.”

I am flawed and inconsistent, but I am a writer.

Fictional Realism

Dear You,

I know it’s been awhile since I wrote, but I wanted to get your take on this idea I’m playing with:

The idea is that the world is a massive book: an encyclopedia which, like Hermione’s bag, can be entered and explored. How I picture it is as a maze of letters: rows of books within books and shelves upon shelves containing and composing the history of the Universe. It’s the Library of Babel and the number 42. It’s extensive, complete, and vast, but ultimately limited to the constraints of Time.

What this means, I think, is that the split seconds are recorded with intensive detail by some unknown “scribes” of this encyclopedia, and the day to day realities of life are reduced to a story which, in our histories, are perceived as fictions even though they really occurred. That is, Napolean is no longer a person, but a character in a story because we can only know the man through the written texts. And, like a character in a fiction, our understanding of these historical figures are limited by the information we have available.

In fact, every interaction we have in the day-to-day is reduced to a kind of vague document outlining the events, but lacking the minutia of the split thoughts and partial comprehensions.

This encyclopedia or library, then, is a multifaceted construct which preserves both the crust and the core of these histories. Some of the entries or books provide the minutia, while some relate only the vaguest of suppositions.

It’s difficult for me to digest, but it’s like this: the world is literature, and we are readers and critics assessing the story and pulling meaning from the words we understand.

I’m not sure how this thought came to my brain, I think, perhaps, from reviewing my old journals and realizing that I understand and imagine the past in the same way that I understand and imagine the stories I read.

I’d like to know what you think of this,

I’m not sure when I’ll write again, but I will when I will.

Until the previous time we’ve met,

Your friend

 

Bloomsday 2014: Sing In Me, Muse…

Aside from presuming to reference the Odyssey (which I’ve read only once in a Freshman philosophy course four years ago), I’m also presuming to write about Bloomsday, that is, Ulysses, by James Joyce.

Bloomsday, if you don’t know, is today: 16 June, 2014. It is a commemoration of the life and work of James Joyce, and it is based on his monstrous novel Ulysses which takes place on this day in 1904.

I’ll confess, I’m sort of jumping on the band wagon rather late: I only realized Bloomsday was a thing last month, when I visited the James Joyce Centre in Dublin. There I learned something about Joyce and his work, and today I’m just beginning to understand.

My understanding began when, in the spirit of the wagon, I wanted to know what people do on Bloomsday. Perhaps, consume a mutton kidney, or take a walk by the beach, or, in the evening- well, somethings are best left unsaid.

But it was this search for involvement that lead me to an article in Vanity Fair called “Bloomsday is a Travesty, but Not for the Reason You Think” (James S. Murphy). This article made me more aware of just how little I know about James Joyce and his work.

Murphy discusses the history of Ulysses as a vulgar, banned text, and how Joyce as a writer would probably be bothered by the holiness of the day.

“Bloomsday celebrations treat Joyce too much like a saint and his book too much like a gospel to be revered first and read later, if at all. By placing Ulysses on a pedestal, we lose sight of both its vulgar origins and its power to tell us deep truths about our world and ourselves precisely by keeping the earthy and obscene aspects of ourselves in view.”

So this makes me wonder about the text. I’ve started the text twice in the last three years, while attending college and taking classes, and both times I found that I could not immerse myself enough to get anything out it. Like a “gospel”, it is a text that requires a great deal of time and energy to read well, and a reader who isn’t prepared to immerse fully in the text will miss out.

But I’m presuming again, to talk about books I haven’t read as though I have some knowledge from my own understanding! What I’m writing here is still only a parrot of the mind of Murphy and, through Murphy, a man named Birmingham.

“Luckily,” wrote Murphy, “a new book by the literary scholar Kevin Birmingham, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, can help us recall Ulysses for what it was and should still be, a shocking novel that tore at decency and tradition as it clawed its way into existence rather than a “classic” that sits happily on an educated person’s bookshelf for eternity, never to be pulled down.”

Here, like the sinner in the pews, I’m finding moral conviction from the words of this literary “preacher”. And I’m beginning to experience Joyce as a fellow writer and human being. I can’t say I know diddly about his work, but I can say that I’ve started a journey with an uncertain end. I’m parroting these writers now, but maybe we all need the crutches of another’s words as we learn to speak for ourselves.

So here is the beginning of my appreciation of Joyce and general literature: the affirmation that literature is seeping, and slow-working. Though I’ll parrot Murphy again, he expresses this with a paraphrase:

“Birmingham compared reading Ulysses to taking a slow-acting drug that gradually reshapes our understanding of ourselves, working its way into our consciousness as we read it, unsettling who we are.”

So, on this Bloomsday, read well and read carefully, but be warned: you may find your understanding altered.

 

 

December: Article in the RMC Summit

An anomaly of college life is that time can vanish suddenly, and this sudden loss of time can have adverse effects on yourself and others. While preparing for the final issue of the Summit last month, my editor needed content and I wanted a press release about my first novel, so this lead to the creation of an article on me and my book. Alas, I was the only one with time to write it! This lead to an interview with myself, which I have reproduced below. In the meantime, be sure to check out the Facebook and Pinterest pages for December.

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Judah LoVato is a senior graduating with a B.A. in Literature Studies, and has published his first book, a short novel called December.

“It’s been difficult trying to publish this book while keeping up with schoolwork,” LoVato explained in an interview with himself April 2, “but I hope it’s worth the stress.”

December is set for official release June 17, 2014 Tate Publishing, a Christian publisher out of Mustang, Okla.

“I found Tate through a friend of mine, Sabre Moore, who had her own first novel, Secrets at Sea, published through Tate as well. Since issues of faith and morality play into December, I was hopeful that they’d accept it as family-friendly writing.”

The story is based on LoVato’s study abroad in Plymouth, England back in 2011.December Cover

“It started as a kind of journal project,” LoVato explained, “because my dad suggested that I write about society from my own perspective as a 19-year-old. From this initial concept it slowly evolved into this stream-of-consciousness monster that I’m having published.”

Stream-of-consciousness is a style of writing where the narrative is written to imitate the thoughts of the main character.

“It took me about a year and a half to settle on the stream-of-consciousness, because I had been trying to make things clear and coherent for readers. But last spring [Spring 2013] I realized that I didn’t have to explain myself, I didn’t have to explain my writing or justify it; it can speak for itself and people can draw their own conclusions about what it stands for.

“That was a moment of liberation for me, and that laid the ground work for the style I finally adopted. It also helped that I was taking this British Novel class where we were reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

“I decided to re-write December so it takes place in the head of my main character, Cole. The style is unique because thoughts aren’t linear, but, as I’ve been learning, there are ways to make the style make more sense.”

The methods, LoVato explained, are to use word repetition and layout patterns for the reader to find. In December the chapters are connected by a theme of self-awareness, and by italicized sections that represent the traditional narrative approach.

According to LoVato, he started thinking about the repetition method when December entered editing this past January.

“The editors made a point of reminding me that stream-of-consciousness lacks descriptive narrative and characterization, and they asked if I ever noticed how most fiction writers provide extensive backgrounds on new characters.

“It forced me to really think about why I wrote stream-of-consciousness, and forced me to think of ways to provide more background on characters and make a ‘through-line’ for the piece.”

LoVato has started marketing December on Facebook, and plans to hold coffee-shop signings over the summer.

Evolution of a Written Work

Dear You,

A few weeks ago I received my manuscript back from The Editor and, as expected, the experience was somewhat traumatizing. It was also educational.

First, it challenged my perceptions of my own work, and made me re-assess my “narrative” approach. I place “narrative” in quotations because December is written as a stream-of-consciousness/internal monologue, and so, as should be expected, The Editor told me that December lacks a narrative structure. The Editor didn’t sign the letter telling me about my lack of convention, and so I lack an address for the letter I feel compelled to write defending my work. I’d like to tell you about the evolution of December from a fairly typical story to the monster of internal monologue she is today in place of a response to said Editor.

Decemeber began as a fairly basic narrative with that third-person omniscience of general fiction. According to my computer, my first draft was finished about February 1, 2012 and began:

“Alright, my love.”  Sheila replied as Cole shut the living room door behind him. He was preparing to walk to his University, carrying his computer, books, water and some coffee in his black shoulder bag. A lighter load than usual. Cole mused about Sheila’s use of ‘my love’ as he opened the front door, such an English thing, that use of ‘Love,’ ‘my love’.

And I seem to have liked that style because it remained until April 2012, when I started (but never finished) a first person version which began:

Perhaps it was the rain that set my mood so low, plummeting as with each drop of rain to tiled roofs, down stuccoed walls, to concrete roads, to glide through cracks and seep deeper and deeper into the dark unbidden earth. “Depression”, is what some people call it, I call it searching for sustenance where nothing else has.

If I remember correctly, the change was prompted by a desire to explain myself and provide background on the the events of the story. Three months later, in July, I had added background prologue and changed the opening to reflect the strange passage of time:

Prologue

His first impression was that He was meant to stay with Her daughter, Karen, because He had been told Karen had a room open for rent. Karen did not have a room open for rent, but thought that the current tenant would be moving out within the month so had arranged for Him to stay with Her until that room became available. …

Thursday 1 December

Nearly three months had passed since Cole moved into Sheila’s home. During that time he and Sheila had become something like friends. Cole had made his preparations to walk back to the University Student Union Building where the chorus was performing their cabaret concert and was excusing himself from the living room.
“I’m going now,” he’d said and Sheila told him
“Alright, my love.”

This prologue/opening was very clear as far a story-line went, and I got to keep the “Alright, my love.” because that phrase had been stuck in my mind since the previous year. Between July and October I decided that the story should be a story within a story, and by October 7, 2012 I started an opening that read:

It’s strange to me. Finding these papers and examining the notes of a young life. The young life of a young man who bears my name, but who has faded beneath layers of experience.

Which kept the idea that the character found in December is an old life of old ideas and old ways, an object to be examined and reflected upon. By the end of October I refined my idea and created an opening which I rather like:

Today is the Seventh of October

Looking around my attic I see piles of odds and ends I have gathered over my life. I have to wonder when I started gathering these things. A sombrero hangs on one wall, boxes marked with different countries form a tidy hedge beneath it. It’s been awhile since I last came up here, whenever it was I bothered making the box hedge and cleaning the attic. A few years at least. It’s funny how distracting life can be.

And this approach, it seems, lead me towards the stream-of-consciousness idea (that and I’m pretty sure I had to read Virginia Woolf and James Joyce for class). The next phase scrapped the journals-in-the-attic device and started towards a more dramatic and uncertain tone:

Maybe we are the recollections of a time not yet come; a history to be examined and learned from by a future not yet established. Maybe our memories are invented as lessons for futures lives, and who we once were are instructors for who we are, and maybe who we are decides who we will become. Maybe we are nothing more than the memories of some future life.
Here I am. Cole stood in front of an arm chair, The living room. Sheila sitting in her chair. Getting ready, Books. Computer.  Coffee. snack: carrots and rice. Water. Fits well enough. Is that her gaze? Almost feel bad taking off.  Bag over shoulder. Leaving taking off. Out the door.

My files take a long time-leap from December 2012 to August 2013 from this point on, however the evolution from there was a fairly direct reworking of the entire work to the interior monologue, which I achieved over the summer of 2013. I reduced a lot of information into the limited first-person psyche and developed a limited narrator (underlined) that offers strict observational notes on the goings on in Cole’s world:

Cole stood near the pinkish arm chair, Here I am. This is where it takes place, it is placed here: here and now. Where is that? “Here and now.” Right now it is a living room, white walled, pink furnatured, with a flat screen TV, an old fire place, closed doors. Right now it is Sheila’s living room. Right now the here and now take place in Sheila’s house in Plymouth, England.

And that is the version I submitted for publication.

I have since altered it slightly and added a stronger through-line for the monologue to follow, as well as the possibility of a forward to help prepare the reader for the oddity of mock-consciousness. I’m still wondering if the forward is necessary, but I have a feeling it will be helpful in the long run.

I know this letter is longer than usual, but I hope you’ve found this process interesting.

Until we meet again,

Judah

Book Blurbs (A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins)

A Walk Across America (1979) is a memoir and adventure story written by Peter Jenkins (1951 – ) as he walked from Alfred, New York to New Orleans, Lousianna. His walk began October 15, 1973 but his journey started in the years before through his experiences in Woodstock, his work through college, and finally a divorce with his first wife. Then he spoke with Stu Wigent, a security guard and friend at Alfred University, and Stu tells Jenkins something that still resonates fourty years later:

“‘All this commotion that’s happening in the country? Sure, it’s all happening. You think it’s something new?’ He glared at me like a prizefight and shook his head. “No, sir! It’s been going on for thousands of years. Yeah, and a lot worse too. What you need to do, Peter, is stop believing all those slick people on the television and news and stop listening to those crazy people making that stuff they call music!’ He leaned forward and put both elbows on the desk with his hands together. “If all you college kids want to leave this country or burn it down, you better be mighty sure you know what you’re doing.’ His arms swept up and backward. ‘If you want to leave, go right ahead, but first you sure as shootin’ ought to give this country a chance!'” (15-16)

Jenkins was incredulous at first, but eventually he set out on the road and encountered America and her people. Along the way he met city folk and mountain men, experienced racism and country prejudice, church services, revivals, and cult-like farms, but from all these things he found that he lived in a country with a heart to it, and found a faith in God he was searching for. He concludes “In this book I’ve told you about the America I discovered as I traveled from Alfred, New York to New Orleans, Lousiana. There is much more to be told, and much more awaiting Barbara and me as we leave the Rockies and head for the Pacific.” (291)

Jenkins, Peter. A Walk Across America. New York: Harper Collins. 1979. Print.

Book Blurbs (Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck)

Of Mice and Men (1937) is a novella written by John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968) that tells the story of George Milton, an intelligent man with quick wit, and Lennie Small, a big man with a child’s brain. The narrative begins with the unlikely pair approaching a ranch near Soledad, California and follows their trials as George cares for Lennie. Lennie is a lot of work, the big man loves touching soft things and his appreciation of texture and monstrous strength causes him to accidentally kill soft mice and soft puppies. Though Lennie does bad things from time to time, “he never done one of ’em mean” (90). Though the pair must part ways when Lennie pays for his misdeeds, their dream of owning their own land may be comfort to Lennie as he lays in the soft dirt.

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin Books. 1978. print.

Book Blurb (Frankenstein by Mary Shelly)

Frankenstein is a Gothic romance written by Mary Shelly (1797 – 1851) and published in 1818. The tale begins with letters from Captain Walton as he journeys Northward to undiscovered lands. There, in the frozen wastelands of the North, Walton encounters Victor Frankenstein and there hears the strange sequence of events that lead the poor Doctor Frankenstein to those remote reaches of the earth. The Doctor’s tale is strange indeed, and explores the limitations of human knowledge while showing, through Frankenstein’s Monster, the way in which evil is created and how knowledge we’re unprepared for can destroy us.

The Importance of Being Earnest (An Essay On The Scarlet Letter)

Language is a referential process of creating meaning; each word operates within a series of structures including history and people, objects and ideas, places and things. These structures create a symbolic framework in which language functions, and this associative nature of language is why written texts are able to convey both a simple story of characters interacting within a setting, while at the same time conveying a subtext suggesting that the characters are more than a textual re-creation of real people. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, for example, is, in terms of text, a simple story of an affair between a woman and a minister, and how that affair and the subsequent love-child affects the mother, Hester Prynne, and the minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. Their story then conveys a lesson on the sin of adultery and pre-marital sex. However, the text tells more than a moral story, and conveys a message deeper than abstinence: through Arthur Dimmesdale, Hawthorne demonstrates the importance of living an honest life.

Hawthorne states clearly in The Scarlet Letter that one of the lessons to be learned from “The poor minister’s miserable experience” is “Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!”” (Hawthorne 199), and this statement is the very heart of Hawthorne’s demonstration of the value of honesty. “Be true” speaks clearly enough, and Hawthorne takes the idea further by commanding the reader to “show freely” any unpleasant traits. However, he demands this level of honesty not because doing so is a more accurate depiction of human insufficiency, but because the act of lying creates inner turmoil which consumes the liar and prevents him or her from moving on to a higher level of spiritual development. Dimmesdale, when read with ‘truth’ in mind, becomes a symbol for spiritual progression as shown by three features of his character: his position as a minister, his guilty torment, and his inability to ‘move on’ until he’s confessed his guilt.

Dimmesdale’s role as minister (a spiritual leader) acts as a way to show both the fear of losing reputation, and the spirit in general. He’s described by Hawthorne as “the man of ethereal attributes” (119), and is deemed by his fellow clergyman as “a miracle of holiness” (119), both of which indicate a being nearer spirit than flesh. This and the minister’s general sickness indicate a man distanced from the physical, and approaching more and more the spiritual world. Ironically, his spiritual excellence is largely the result of his burden of untruth and hypocrisy. A burden of torment he struggles with throughout the text in the form of his constant illness, and manifested in the false doctor Chillingworth. However, Dimmesdale’s torment begins even before Chillingworth appears as the doctor.

During Hester Pryne’s public denouncement on the scaffold Dimmesdale urges her to tell the congregation who the father of the child is, saying “Be not silent for any mistaken pity and tenderness for him…though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, … better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life” (67). Here Dimmesdale both alludes to his own guilt, referring to the “high place” where he stood, and attempts to avoid personally revealing the secret by allowing the charge to come from Hester. This fails, however, because he must confess his wrongs with his own mouth, and since he would not do so at that moment he chooses to remain anonymous and guilty, and enters into a state of torment that prolongs his guilty life.

Here Chillingworth enters as a manifestation of guilt, tormenting Dimmesdale under the guise of a healer. Hawthorne writes that Chillingworth, after verifying the minister’s guilt, “became, thenceforth, not a spectator only, but a chief actor, in the poor minister’s interior world” (117), demonstrating through Chillingworth that a guilty conscious prohibits spiritual strength through torment, and shows the effects of the torment through Dimmesdale’s descent into a weaker and weaker state. A torment Dimmesdale can only escape from by first accepting his guilt privately, then publicly acknowledging his fault, and by doing this Dimmesdale is allowed to continue forward as spiritual emblem.

Hawthorne shows this through the moments when Dimmesdale is able to align his actions with the truth of his guilt, that is, when the minister is able to privately accept his guilt. One moment comes when the minister stands on the scaffold of shame late one night, and sees Hester and Pearl, their child, on their way home from a death bed. He calls them up to stand with him and holds their hands, showing the sleeping world his secret. Doing this “there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life… pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system” (126). Here the warm, new life of truth invades Dimmesdale’s guilt ridden heart, suggesting that aligning himself with earnestness by confessing his guilt is essential for his step forward as a spiritual emblem.

Later, Dimmesdale himself bemoans his lack of honesty when he is again alone with Hester and says, “Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a seven years’ cheat to look into an eye that recognizes me for what I am!” (153). Relief, in short, is what comes for those spirits who walk in truth. However, Dimmesdale’s confession to Hester and Pearl is, nonetheless, hidden the darkness of night and the forest, making it incomplete. The truth must be shown in the light of day, in front of the whole congregation in order to have value. For Hawthorne, the suitable stage for confession is the scaffold where Dimmesdale refused to stand, a place of both shame and elevation, which allows Dimmesdale to both reveal himself and rise to another level of spiritual well-being.

Chillingworth, the embodiment of poor Dimmesdale’s guilt, expresses the necessity of the minister’s confession on the scaffold, “‘Hadst thou sought the whole earth over,’ Said he, looking darkly at the clergyman, ‘there was no one place so secret, – no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me, – save on this very scaffold!’” (195). The scaffold is essential because the guilt derived less from the adulterous act, and more from Dimmesdale’s fear of standing with Hester in the first place and being an honest man. Had he done so, he would have been guilty of a sin, but would have walked in open truth where guilt has little power.

Reading The Scarlet Letter in this way is possible because the simple, direct language employed by Hawthorne to describe the anxiety of the minister’s experiences, and stating that the lesson from the ordeal is: “Be True!” (199). Hawthorne uses settings and images that suggest the difference between private confession hidden in darkness, and public confession exalted on a high place in the light. The characters are used to portray qualities of the minister’s guilt, and he is only able to progress spirituality by taking responsibility for his sin in broad daylight as made evident by Chillingworth’s inability to act when the minister ascends the scaffold. Through Dimmesdale’s story in The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne demonstrates that an honest life, though perhaps one of shame, is a better life, and shows the vital import of being earnest.

Citation: Murfin, Ross. The Scarlet Letter (Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism Series). 2nd Ed . Bedford/St. Martins: New York, 2006. Print. Pages in text.

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