I was only two classes into my English major when I was assigned Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. It is practically a brick, with my copy coming in at a stunning 1036 pages, printed in what seemed like point 8 font. It’s a novel about a variety of things (including a Dickens trademark orphan), but the heart and center is a long-running legal case used to satirize the corruption and inefficacy of the English judicial system. The novel is marked by 1850s language, and often completely irrelevant, labyrinthine, and impenetrable prose. In short, it’s not something to read with half of your head engaged.

I made it through. Mostly. There were sections I skimmed, pages I skipped – any English major knows the drill. But I sincerely tried – and didn’t drop the major – and I find that Bleak House is one of the few books that really stands out to me throughout my educational experience. The toil and tears and nights spent googling 1800s judicial systems gave me a far deeper understanding of what the novel was actually saying, beyond what the story told.

This experience is not unique to me, and it’s most certainly not conditional to Dickens. Any student of literature has most likely had that one particularly vexing novel that you’d rather punt out a window than do a close reading paper on. And while the Internet makes it fairly easy to get away with not reading and still being able to generally bull your way through a conversation (be it SparkNotes or other summaries), I find that skipping incredibly taxing books is actually doing a discredit to yourself.

Classics, and the books we are assigned in literature studies, are not necessarily the best books in existence, nor are they necessarily even within your personal conception of ‘good’. However, they are oft assigned because they have some kind of historical value – be it to culture or literary history. For example, you’re in your full right to dislike reading 1984, but a novel that has entire books dedicated to its effect on history does matter. You may despise James Joyce – but he spearheaded the entire 20th century avant-garde movement in literature, and that is significant enough to pay attention to. Furthermore, while classics may seem dry, and their words permanent and unchanging, another factor that makes classics “classics” is an interminable message that is applicable for modern thinking and reflection. Themes are often timeless, and the good books are the ones that tell you something about the essence of humanity.

KatherineTo have this timeless essence, the novels must have a sufficient weight that will undoubtedly be harder to digest than just some five and dime book offthe shelf. The tougher the text the more reflective we must be when absorbing it; the more reflective, the more effort we must put in. We often get out the equivalent of what we put in, and books that demand more in will always give more out in return. Challenging books should do just that – challenge you to think differently, to alter your perception, to learn. Thinking reflectively about deep, abiding issues in humanity is not going to be a Sunday pastime like easy books often are for serious readers; the mental effort put in to be able to parse what it’s saying versus what it’s saying will yield more fruit than can ever come out of summaries.

Plus, there’s little more satisfying than pointing to a book in a bookstore as thick as your head, and saying, “yeah, I read that,” to the impressed science major next to you.

– Katherine Eckenwiler

Nothing is sweeter than a good book after a long day, except maybe a good book and the perfect treat to complement it. Here are some suggestions for pairing your reading material to your dessert.

Pride and Prejudice with Macarons

macaron

“‘I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,’ said Darcy.

‘Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.’”

Craving something light, sweet, and sophisticated? Look no further! The shiny, colorful shell of these delicate French confections belies their varied flavor palette, a reminder that sometimes complicated flavor hides beneath a frivolous shell. As Lizzie discovers just how badly she misjudge Mr. Darcy, you might realize that the cookie you thought was pistachio is actually green tea flavored!  Plus, they’d fit right in at a fashionable Regency-era tea party.

The Taming of the Shrew with Chocolate Roulette

chocolate-roulette
Image source: https://www.firebox.com/Bite-The-Bullet/p1976?mkt=en-us

“I am as peremptory as she proud-minded;

And where two raging fires meet together,

They do consume the thing that feeds their fury.”

What could better evoke the violent courtship of Katherina and Petruchio than a box of delicious milk chocolates with a chance of melting your face off? Most of the chocolates in this box are totally normal, but some of them are laced with incredibly spicy chili extract perfectly suited for a couple of extraordinarily sharp tongues. Petruchio may be unfazed by the lion’s roar and heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies, but this treat could give even his hot temper a run for its money.

The Great Gatsby with Orange Chocolate Truffles

orange-chocolate-truffles

“Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York — every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.”

Jay Gatsby is in many ways the embodiment of decadence, and so his tale must be paired with an equally decadent dessert: dark chocolate truffles, almost too rich, with a tang of orange to evoke the crates on crates of oranges sacrificed to Gatsby’s weekly parties. If you want a highly authentic culinary experience, consider hiring a butler to hand-feed them to you, or have a box delivered to your married ex-girlfriend.

The Hobbit with Lavender and Lemon Cookies

Image source: http://www.pastryaffair.com/blog/lavender-lemon-shortbread.html
Image source: http://www.pastryaffair.com/blog/lavender-lemon-shortbread.html

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

Say what you will about Hobbits, they are undoubtedly the best cooks in Middle Earth. What is a hobbit-hole without a full pantry and the smell of something delicious in the air, something like buttery shortbread and lavender and a hint of lemon zest? As you read about Bilbo yearning for his bed and his handkerchief you should enjoy a dessert that echoes his nostalgia. Try this pairing for the perfect elevenses treat, and appreciate all the comfort and innocence of the Shire without all the tedious adventuring.

– Erin Norton Lannen

If you’re a writer, you’ve all been there one time or another. You’re reading a book in your favorite armchair or preparing to critique your classmate’s piece when you stumble upon something that brings awe to you. It could be the beautiful language or the vivid details or the way the author created the final twist at the end and you wonder how in the world did they do that?

So you sit there, re-read the passage, and then your heart drops. You think, “How will I ever write as well as that? Is it too late to switch my major?”

Before you slam the novel shut and stomp away, swearing you’ll never write again because the competition is too daunting, I’m here to inform you that it’s okay to feel frustrated. Jealousy happens to all of us. However, the key is to use your envy for something positive; utilize it to strengthen your own writing.

For example, what about that particular passage unleashed the green-eyed monster in you? Once you understand why, you can then focus on what you can control. Maybe you need to develop your skills at painting vibrant scenes for your readers? Or maybe your rhythm is off in your prose? Sometimes, I find it useful to read other stories and gather how other authors went about accomplishing whatever it is I consider a weakness in my own writing. Figure out ways on how you can incorporate this new skill into your work.

For me, I remember how I once had a workshop with a classmate and I was thoroughly impressed at how he managed to tell a complete story with only four paragraphs. The way he wove the characters and specific details to explore the conflict, yet still packing a punch at the end of the page, astounded me. I’m not much of a flash fiction writer, but it taught me that sometimes I don’t need to weight the story down with so many images. Sometimes being a minimalist writer can have its perks.

But beyond actively trying to better your writing, you should remind yourself that you have your own path to walk. Be proud of your accomplishments so far and know a writer’s job is never complete. There’s always room for improvement. No one’s first or second or even sixth draft is ever perfect. That’s what editing is for. So it’s unfair to compare yourself to whatever published work you’ve read because it definitely wasn’t polished in its rough draft.

amandaBesides, you shouldn’t view other writers as your competitors. They are your allies. Writing can be a lonely activity, and the writing world out there can be harsh, so it’s best to surround yourself with people who can encourage you to improve. They’re really useful for pointing out your writing flaws in a kind way and making content suggestions that hadn’t crossed your mind before. And if you can’t find these people within your workshops, perhaps check out your local library for its writers’ group or your university’s creative writing club.

But if all of this means nothing to you and you’re still fiercely jealous, it’s okay to take a step back. Listen to music to calm down or get out of your house for a change in scenery. After clearing my head, I always realize how silly I was being. Of course my writing will one day reach the level I always dreamed it would be. I just need to keep practicing.

And remember: If you are envious of another person’s work, it means you have ambition. Don’t let it discourage you from improving your craft.

Now get back to writing!

– Amanda Matkowski

Literature is a writer’s best friend.  Books are not only a cheap and fun form of entertainment, they also are a great way for writers to study their own craft. Reading other authors works helps an aspiring writer analyze successful writing. Whether you are suffering from writer’s block, looking to pick up some writing tips or you are just looking for an inspiring weekend read, these books are great options for you.

“How Fiction Works” James Wood

Image result for how fiction worksJames Wood’s “How Fiction Works” is an easy read book-length essay that discusses different topics writers must take into consideration like style and story from. Woods takes his point of view as a critic and takes the reader through different popular works from authors like Homer, in order to break down the art and process that is writing fiction.

http://amzn.to/2dH2NJf

 

“Naked, Drunk, And Writing” Adair Lara

Image result for naked drunk and writingAdair Lara’s “Naked, Drunk, And Writing” is as fun of a read as it sounds, especially if you pair it with your own glass of wine. Lara takes a personal approach to her novel, giving it a part biographical and part writing lesson feel. I definitely would say Lara’s use of personal stories makes it a fun class in mechanics and language.

http://amzn.to/2eCRarb

 

 

“On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft” Stephen King

Image result for stephen king 10th anniversaryA memoir by the King himself, need I say more? For those of you who aren’t convinced by the title, author, or the 4.5 star rating online like most, King has proved himself a master of the arts with his many successful short stories, novels, screenplays, comics, essays, television shows, ect, (you guys get the idea right?) He has nearly as many awards to back up his success as well. In this million copy bestseller, King focuses on the art of fiction. He goes through tips that he picked up over the years and tools every author should know how to use. He even discusses how he personally emerged as such a successful writer. This is one you will want to have on your personal book shelf.

http://amzn.to/2eE86e4

– Abigail Patrick

In the spring of 2013, while browsing Goodreads, I found several blogs that reviewed books and decided that was something I’d like to do too. After spending many hours researching how to create a blog, and reading mostly guides by other bloggers, I signed up for WordPress and set out designing my own website. Within a couple days I had my first review posted. It was brief and unoriginal, and, in all honesty, it was awful but it started me out on a path that would help me figure out what kind of careers I’d be interested as I started college. Three years later, I find that through blogging and reviewing books, I’ve been introduced to a side of the publishing industry that most people don’t see.

Before I started blogging, I had no concept of the term ‘professional reader.’ It wasn’t until I started leisurely reading and reviewing books that interested me that I stumbled upon the world of Professional Readers. A professional reader, defined by Netgalley, is someone who reads, reviews, and recommends books to other people, whether for libraries, bookstores, in classrooms, or online via blogging.

For most people, outside of academia, reading is a form of entertainment and escape from everyday life; however, there’s an online community of readers and bloggers who started off as leisurely readers and are now joining the ranks of Professional Readers, amongst librarians, educators, journalists, and booksellers.

Online platforms such as Netgalley and Edelweiss allow readers to access books that are soon to be published, and request to read and review them as galleys (often called Advanced Reader Copies, or ARCs) to help generate publicity for these books, through reviews, word of mouth, and social media.

“NetGalley is a service to promote titles to professional readers of influence. If you are a reviewer, blogger, journalist, librarian, bookseller, educator, or in the media, you can use NetGalley for FREE to request, read and provide feedback about forthcoming titles. Your feedback and recommendations are essential to publishers and readers alike. (Netgalley.com)”

There is a mutual benefit for both publishers and readers when an ARC is given to a reader to review and promote. The publishers gain extra publicity for very little cost (in the case of digital ARCs – print copies are more limited and expensive) and receive feedback in the form of reviews from the readers. Readers read and review these books for free because they get access to the books for no charge, and in most cases the readers are interested and passionate about the books they receive.

This process takes place online through either websites like Netgalley and Edelweiss, or through directly emailing the publishers, to request digital or physical ARCs. The publisher usually takes into account the social reach of the reader, such as where they’ll be reviewing the book, how many followers or page views they have, and whether or not the reader is the targeted audience. Based on this information, the request for that book is either accepted or declined.

Most readers publish their reviews online on a blog or website, and then share their reviews on social media websites like Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads. These reviews help expand awareness of the book, generating a ‘buzz’ about the book before it’s released. Many people look online to find new books in their preferred genres, and having these reviews on so many accessible websites helps connect the book with potential readers, particularly websites like Goodreads.

Additionally, many bloggers join together to form online communities.  These communities help spread the word on new books.  Once one blogger reviews a new ARC, many other bloggers become curious and want to find out for themselves what the book is all about, and will likely go out and purchase the book when it’s released so they can review it themselves and add to the buzz.

Professional readers and their reviews are invaluable to publishers and authors. The buzz and response from readers about a book can determine whether or not a book sells, among other factors like outside marketing (which can get expensive and is not very extensive for most books). Professional readers and reviews are a vital part of the marketing strategy for many publishers when promoting a new book.

As a professional reader, reviewer, and blogger, I’ve been able to interact with and experience the publishing industry in new ways. Having this interaction and this experience has opened up new ideas about what I would like to do with my degree in English in the future, particularly working within the publishing industry, where, if I’m lucky, I’ll still be reading and promoting books I’m passionate about.

If you’re interested in learning more, browse the Netgalley and Edelweiss websites. In my next post, I’ll discuss how to become a professional reader, particularly how to get started with a blog.

– Jessica Trudeau