I use words goodly

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Find a degree in English, Philosophy, and Theater in every box! Plus a temporary tattoo!

I have a Bachelor of Arts in English. I swear, they give those things out in Cracker Jack boxes.

I kid! I kid! Put your spatulas at ease, fellow English majors, those burgers don’t flip themselves!

Seriously, I loved, and still love, everything English, it’s my native tongue after all. What I mean is, I love literature and grammar and writing and being pretentious. Apparently, I also love not knowing what to do with my life, why else choose such an ambiguous degree to pursue?

Even with that certificate authenticating that I made it through four years at a reputable institution, charming my professors through long-winded essays that never came to any conclusion on anything conclusive, I must confess, I am a sham.

Yes, a sham. You may even see it in the way I write my blog sometimes. Not only do I make up my own grammar rules, sometimes I use a word so grossly incorrectly that the only thing that can be deduced is that I took an existing word and made it into a new word, devoid of it’s prior association. I’m that good.

It doesn’t stop there. You should hear me talk. I don’t even pronounce words correctly. For 28.5 years, I pronounced the word placate as “play-sate.” My husband first pointed it out to me, and I told him he was an idiot (I have a BA in English after all, from Penn State!). Well, he was, and is, correct, but I still can’t kick the habit. It’s far too entrenched in my brain. This mispronunciation is inoperable.

I have no idea what I would do at work without Grammar Girl. She is my savior whenever I forget the rules of capitalization in a title, which is everyday. How am I even employed?

I know I have faults as a writer (I’m talking about you, passive voice! ) and I’ve come to terms with it. Mostly because I don’t even notice my bad habits at this point—they are far too habitual. I don’t even want to change.

Perhaps I justify this with the compliment I received from the best professor I ever had, in the best class I ever took, and the only class I never skipped (creative writing, of course). All the students had to write a piece of fiction and critique every individual’s short story—mine was naturally the longest by a good 15 pages (remember, lover of passive voice here). The teacher said, “after reading Gingermermaid’s, did it really seem like 25 pages?” And the class was like, “no! How magical!” And he was like, “style…blah blah blah…genius…blah blah blah…A+++++” or something along those lines, I’m sure of it.

Look, I’m no Thomas Hardy (my personal favorite) or Shakespeare (thank goodness) or Suzanne Collins (nom nom nom games), I’m just me. A girl with a degree in English who works in the unrelated topics of the Middle East and Africa, who disregards the grammar rules that I don’t agree with (or remember), and a girl who should never ever teach English to anybody—ever. A girl with a blog I can abuse with words.

 

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This better not suck

I’m a literature nerd. If I could, I would read all the books all the time. Especially of the Victorian Persuasion (bedumchhhh!).

One of my most favorite-est-est books in the entire universe is Far From the Madding Crowd by the stupendous Thomas Hardy. I love this book so much, in fact, that I’m naming my yet-to-be-born-son after the protagonist in the story—Gabriel. No lie.

A week before I found out I was preggers, I turned to my then unknowing boyfriend (now husband), “If we ever have a son, can we name him Gabriel because I want him to be exactly like this character in this book I read.”

He agreed, and how fortuitous! A week later we found out little Baby Gabey was growing inside my belly. Destiny.

Anyway, I digress. Because I love this book so much and could reread it a million times enjoying it each and every turn, I’m deeply afeared for a new rendition of a film version set to come out next year. Look, I know there are already films of this movie in existence, but you know how it goes in this day and age, get some cutie petutie actors, sexualize the plot, take the understated and overstate it, and bang! the movie fails the book and thus makes the book less than its former, virginal self.

It doesn’t help matters that the only line of the description (as seen on IMDB) of the movie so far is: “A beautiful young woman maintains a relationship with three very different men.” Seriously?! That’s the take-away?!

Look, I’m sure it will become further descriptive like: “Based (or loosely based) on the novel by Victorian author, Thomas Hardy, this story is about a beautiful, vain woman who captures the hearts of three very different men that go in three very different ways.”

Bleck. Stupid movie makers.

Carey Mulligan will play the part of Bathsheeba Everdeen. Just don’t make her blonde and I don’t know if I truly care who plays the role. I realize Bathsheeba’s character metemorphasizes throughout the story, but she’s not the most lovable literary figure, most of the story she’s a stupid early 20-something brat (in my opinion, and one in which I could relate to [minus the farming part]). But Gabriel Oak—he’s the man. Perhaps I glorify him far too much, or maybe even the book makes him out to be too honorable and good with just enough flaw, but seeing the actor playing him doing a sub par job (which, honestly, even a perfect actor acting it perfectly wouldn’t meet my standards, so sorry, Matthias Schoenaerts) would ruin much of Madding for me.

But alas! I am also intrigued! I want to see it! I’m terrified that the imaginary world I’ve created will be destroyed by the world cinema will create, but I’m still ever so curious. It’s the price paid whenever any book is made into a movie. All of a sudden, Bathsheeba doesn’t look like the one I imagined, but Carey Mulligan. The town of Weatherbury no longer appears like it did in my mind from Hardy’s description, but from the set created to shoot the film.

Even worse, the plot deviates. All of a sudden, that “kiss” that Seargant Troy and Bathsheeba shared is now outright fornication in a field…before wedlock! Boldwood and Troy now get into a gruesome fight at the Christmas party that ends in arms and legs being tossed off and about like Mr. Potato Head parts. Worse yet, now Fanny comes back from the dead as a zombie craving the brains of Oak’s sheep.

I’m just worried that what I consider perfection will be tainted, not just for me, but for everybody. No one has to love the book like I do. No one has to love T. Hardy like I do. But no one should bastardize literature when it can be helped. Hollywood has done that too many times already. How many more books must suffer? I think I’ll start a nonprofit, “Save the Book: Stop Filming.”

Then again, perhaps someone will see the film and be like, “wow, this Tom guy had something going. I’m going to pick up Far From the Madding Crowd, and also, this Jude the Obscure thing looks pretty swell. Hmmmm, maybe I should look into those Bronte sisters I hear so much about too.”

In the interim, just in case the movie destroys a part of the magical literary pedestal I place this book on, I’m going to reread it over and over again. As if I wasn’t already doing that…

Let’s get Oscar Wilde!

Yes, “let’s get Oscar Wilde!” This is what my boyfriend envisioned my college spring break shenanigans entailed. I get it, I was an English major and reading is super cool, but, come on, I wasn’t that nerdy…

I mentioned that I recently acquired a Kindle, a decision not easily made, but due to my re-kindled (bedumchhhhh) love of reading, my book supply simply couldn’t keep up with my page turning, so-to-speak.

In exploring new opportunities for literary magic to download to my Kindle, I came across many of those lists saying things like, “100 Books to Read Before You Die” and “50 Books Every 28-year-old Redhead MUST Read.” I look at these lists, and think, “eh.”

While there are books that are absolute literary genius, it’s tough to choose one genre, one era, one author, one title, or even several of the same and make it a “must read before death” quota. Reading is subjective and some of those classics and bestsellers are just not for everyone.

I’ve read Wuthering Heights twice, not on my own volition, it had something to do with passing classes in college. Look, I understand the Bronte sisters were far ahead of their time, and blah blah blah, and I really like Jane Eyre and Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but Wuthering Heights? I did NOT like it. I wouldn’t even go as far to say, “OMG, you should read Wuthering Heights cuz it’s like a classic and stuff.” There is so much else out there to read, and while I appreciate the kind of book it is, I would’ve been living just as well, if not better, having not ever read it. I’d probably be less angry at Emily Bronte, for example.

As much as I hate these lists, I still like to peruse them for something new ideas or a, “yeah, I really should read that” moment. I should at least investigate what all the hubbub is about.

My modus operandi with books is that if I’m halfway through and I’m not enjoying it, I put it away. So I’m sorry highly recommended A Staggaring Work of Exceptional Genius, I get that you’re a good book, but halfway through, it wasn’t working out. It’s not you, it’s me. But there’s too much else out there to dive into that I’d enjoy much, much more to waste my time on a book I’m less than thrilled about. Thanks, anyway.

So, to contradict much of what I’ve mentioned in this post, I do have a list of books I think people should read—wait, let me rephrase—a list of recommendations.

East of Eden – John Steinbeck (…and ANYTHING by John Steinbeck, man is a genius)

Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery

Tess of the D’urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Scarlett Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Curious Incident of the Dog – Mark Haddon

Empire Falls – Richard Russo

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

The Collected Works of Algernon Blackwood – Algernon Blackwood (I couldn’t choose just one titillating story!)

Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls (I still cry thinking of that book)

The Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins (soooo captivating, come on!)

The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

The Diary of Anne Frank

The Giver – Lois Lowry

Look, there are many more great books I could recommend, even more I don’t recommend, and there are a great many great books I’m waaaaaaaay past due to read that should be on this list. So, this summer, while my friends are getting drunk till 3am on a Friday night, I will be snuggled up with my cat and Kindle till the witching hour, catching up on all the books I can digest in a marathon reading, saving some money and brain cells, and waking up with only a literature hangover.

Things are going to get Oscar Wilde.

The Kindle: I have turned to the Darkside and I like it

Hey Gingermermaid, this way to evil and fun! Follow me to KindleWorld!

Hey Gingermermaid, this way to evil and fun! Follow me to KindleWorld!

Gasp! I know, right?

Gingermermaid, lover of books, page-i-liscious books, has converted into a Kindle owner. Dun dun duuuuuuuun!

Look, I have millions of excuses as to the switch-over, and I am happy to say, it has nothing to do with peer pressure—a statement which is only partially factual.

For years, I have fought this e-book trend. It’s sad to lose the magic of floppy paperbacks, the bulkiness of Harry Potter-sized hard covers, and the crisp folds of dog-eared pages. It feels like an insult to all the writers and readers before us and, yet again, another object in life digitalized.

But it’s the evolution of life. There used to be a time when books needed their pages sliced in order to proceed to the next page. Did pro-page slicers protest books that no longer required such arduous, manual reading skills? I suspect they did not.

My tipping point came recently—I’d venture to say a little over a week ago recently. I’ve been on a reading binge and I’m currently assembling 100 books I’d like to read that is not one of those stupid “100 Books I MUST Read Before Sinking 6 Feet Under” but a list of books I want to read and I believe are worthwhile reads and will be read in my own time (let’s do this, Dr. Seuss). I’m a fast reader, so I think I can move through the list Jonathan Swiftly (ha ha, I’m lame).

The reality is there are a great many books available as e-books and a great many of these are free. Free. FREE. Which means, I get to read Thomas Hardy, Charlotte Bronte, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and many more for no cost and without needing to leave the comfort of a reading chair. That butt doesn’t grow itself, after all. Aside from works not obligated to copyright, and thus free, there are other, more modern books heavily discounted or at zero cost in e-book form. I just downloaded a book by Ronald Malfi, whom I never read before but was recommended as a great writer of horror. It’s not like it cost anything to own and I have plenty of bookshelf space in my e-library, so why not give it a go?

I’m such a sell-out. Shame.

Aside from easy and cheap access to books (get your mind out of the gutter), the Kindle is small, light-weight, and contains thousands of pages everywhere I tote it. I’m going to Israel for work in a few weeks, and I don’t have to bring five different books to read on the trip; I can have my copy of Mice and Men, Far From the Madding Crowd, and The Great Gatsby with me and I don’t have to check it as excess carry-on baggage.

Furthermore, I have access to local libraries (way to adapt libraries!) and can check out books from the comfort of my home like I would a physical book. Cost-effective, time-effective.

Look, I do cherish the physical manifestation of a book, and I’d love first editions of my favorite books, and if I can’t get a first edition, I want a copy of that book to snuggle with at night. How could I ever justify not owning Anne of Green Gables? I wouldn’t even be able to look at myself in the mirror.

I know I said the tipping point that broke me had to do with a reading binge, blah blah blah. I must confess, it also largely had to do with my 7-year-old niece who received a Kindle for her birthday earlier this month and knew how to master it before I even knew there were buttons on the basic device. She cannot outdo me. She’s already received an excellence in literature interpretation in the first grade and all I had was a purple dress with a big, stupid bow on it. It’s on, little Ruby.

I may be rocking this ensembles, made phenomenal by the white sneakers, but at my Author's Tea in grade 1, I was only able to present a story about a family of trolls, and here my niece can already interpret my story and read it on a Kindle. Gotta keep up.

I may be rocking this ensemble, made phenomenal by the white sneakers, but at my Author’s Tea in grade 1, I was only able to present a story about a family of trolls, and here my niece can already interpret my story and read it on a Kindle. Gotta keep up.

Reconnecting with literature: reading the books I was supposed to read in college but didn’t

I have my BA in English. What they should call it is a BS. Bedumchhhhh! Just kidding.

Getting a degree in English entails lots of reading, lots of reading, and a bit more reading. Followed by lots of essays, lots of essays, and a few more essays. This work is done  in the hopes that us English majors can earn a position as the manager of a McDonald’s one day. Seriously, what were we thinking?

I wasn’t the archetypal English major. Firstly, because I was sure I already knew everything about everything (which probably made me a typical English major, but not ideal). Secondly, I hated, and still hate, nearly all poetry. Thirdly, I didn’t have my head oriented in studying—it was always chasing after some foreign world with some foreign guy in it which made me grumpy and borderline ready to skip college and frolic in the Mediterranean with my idealized Adonis.

I wasn’t happy at school and I didn’t have the epic collegiate experience that everyone around me was having. What everyone had told me the best part of my life would be was a crushing disappointment. This attitude, experience, whatever, had an impact on my study habits, test taking skills, and general view of literature and writing.

Between hours spent in the library and the hours curled in a hot-ball mess in my bedroom, my manic study habits varied through the semester and even the hour in the day. It is nothing short of a miracle that I not only passed my classes decently but that I managed to do so with a severe nonchalance toward the reading part of my degree—the most essential part of being an English major.

My senior year of college, I had multiple 400-level literature courses to take to fulfil those remaining graduation requirements. Good scheduling on my part (not). This meant many big, thick books to read on a weekly basis.

Rather than read the novels themselves, I took shortcuts. I listened in class, talked to my peers, checked out summaries and analyses online, and then puzzled it all together. It worked for me. I got the gist and manipulated the info into an essay, with a few quintessential shout-out quotes. This gave me steady B’s. Thank goodness my teachers preferred essays to exams. My saving grace is my knack for BS.

It wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized by half-assing it, I didn’t maximize my education and I missed a great opportunity to delve into some seriously great pieces of work. Such is the wisdom that comes with age and failed romances.

The books I was supposed to read during my collegiate career sat patiently on the shelves in my room, waiting to fulfill their destiny to be read. A few years after graduating, I began to open their musty pages and read of my own volition and in my own time.

I feel like a tool for not reading these books when I had the opportunity—to really delve into them with my peers and professors. But in a way, I appreciate them more now than I ever could as a pompous, despondent 21-year-old. Now, I look online for interpretations, discussions, so that I enhance my reading experience—only after I have finished the book. No spoilers!

Here are my most recent reading renaissances:

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100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

If you like incest and feeling a bit down, this is the book for you. It’s beautifully written, dense, and a bit perturbing. Amuck with magical realism; it’s tough to understand if the magic is real or a metaphor (in my opinion). Politcal theming modeled after Columbian and other Latin American history. The character names are reused often, so it gets confusing.

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The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Who doesn’t like some Hemingway? Probably lots of people, but what do they know? With an attention to detail, each word setting the scene, mastering an unmatched style of narrative, get involved in the lives of the impotent Jake, and the siren, Lady Brett Ashley, and meet the group of friends that Hemingway modeled his own life after as part of the post-WWI ex-patriots who took to Europe to write, live, and consume a lot of alcohol.

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Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

I read this, but to be honest, not my favorite. Not because it wasn’t well-written and interesting, but because it wasn’t my taste. The story mainly takes place in WWII, written and narrated to speak about survival at the bombing of Dresden, in a very winding road kind of way. Loaded with weird time travelly, flash-backy, flash-forwardy things, it can seem like too much science fiction for the non-lover of the sci-fi genre. Not a happy book; lots of death in this one. So it goes.

Currently Reading…

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East of Eden, John Steinbeck

I just finished chapter 1, so, get back to me…

Over the years I’ve read other pieces of forsaken literature; these reflect the ones I picked up the past months and that I actually physically have in hand. I can’t remember all the required reading I completed since graduating, but I know through this process I discovered new favorite authors in the old, and a new appreciation of a subject I claim to have a degree in. In some ways, I’m more the pretentious English major than I ever was.

I learned in college that books cannot be read via osmosis under your pillow, but they also can’t be read by an unwilling subject. It may be too late to turn my B’s (sometimes C’s) into A’s, but there’s no reason I can’t give my brain some entertainment and mental exercise.

Let’s do this, Steinbeck.