Illogical Literature

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by Connor Brandt, sophomore writing coach

Most people have heard of this infuriating conundrum: to get a job, you must have experience, but to get experience, you must get a job. This seems stupid and illogical; how is it reasonable to expect someone to obtain something if the simple act of needing it is enough to justify denying it? This type of logical fallacy is often known as a “Catch-22.” But why is it called a Catch-22? What’s so special about twenty two specifically?

In 1953, Joseph Heller began writing a novel that would be released in 1961. The book starred Captain John Yossarian, a B-25 bomber pilot staged in the Mediterranean during WWII. On each bombing mission, around 5 out of 100 people were killed in action. Naturally, Yossarian and his compatriots often sought ways to get out these dangerous missions as they valued their own lives.

The ultimate escape from flying these missions was to be deemed mentally unfit for duty, or in simpler terms, being insane. To be insane, all one had to do was to willingly throw themselves into dangerous situations, such as flying on a bombing run, since having no regard for one’s safety is insane. However, to be considered insane, one also had to request that their sanity be evaluated. While this may seem like an easy way out for Yossarian, there was one major problem: the act of requesting an evaluation shows rational concern for one’s safety, something only a sane person could do. This entire system of determining sanity and insanity was justifiable under the rule from which the book draws its name—Catch-22.

So, you still may be wondering, “what’s special about 22?” Good question! Answer: nothing! Other numbers were considered but shot down for conflicting with famous releases of books and movies, like 11, 18, and 14. So, they picked 22, because it has the repetition of one number—just like 11—to reflect the repetition within the novel.
While it may not be groundbreaking to learn that a type of logical fallacy places its origin in a book, it’s still interesting to see the effect that things can have on language. So, now you know the origin of the famous Catch-22: a WWII novel about some aviators trying to escape military bureaucracy. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t help me with that summer job.

Sense and Sensibility: 19th Century Sarcasm

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by Luke Bunday, junior writing coach

If I were asked to give the sensory equivalent to the experience of reading Sense and Sensibility, I would say that it’s like sitting down at the beach to play cards, sip tea, and watch an oil tanker explode in the distance.

(The oil tanker in that analogy is actually filled with sarcasm — there is a lot of it.)

As Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility is pretty darn important in the history of literature: its commercial success paved the way for the publication of Pride and Prejudice and the rest of Austen’s brilliant works. But seeing it as just a stepping stone to other novels would be an injustice.

Sense and Sensibility tells the story of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. They respectively represent sense (i.e., reason and caution) and sensibility (i.e., emotion and spontaneity), and throughout the novel they both struggle with separation from their love interests. In fact, by the second act, these love interests are basically never present physically. Don’t get me wrong, though; Austen includes enough romantic yearning to tug out your defenseless heartstrings and play them like a violin, especially in the last thirty pages. But the thing that propels the novel forward in the meantime is her hilarious, whip-smart dialogue.

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One of the primary conflicts of the story is Elinor’s fight to maintain a collected exterior even in the face of increasingly distressing circumstances and belligerent people. And this restrained facade turns out to be the perfect vessel for delivering jabs of verbal swordplay. The understatement in Elinor’s polite retorts only adds to their sharpness; you can practically feel the heat of the burns rising off of the pages.

Marianne, too, is brilliantly characterized in ways that adds to the humor of the story. By the middle of the novel, it would be easy to write her off as melodramatic and careless, but her strong emotions end up lending to her likability. On multiple occasions, her fierce temper and earnest affection for her sister lead her to disregard social norms and say things that are both totally out of line and completely justified.

The wonderful way the two sisters provide foil for one another, with complementary but opposite approaches to dealing with frustration, is just one of the reasons why this book, which started as a simple character study, is more than the sum of its parts. The great thing about Jane Austen’s work is that it contains multitudes. Social commentary, critiques of superficiality, and thoughts on love and loyalty intermingle in Sense and Sensibility, and you come away from reading it with a feeling of fulfillment and a lot to think about.

The Calming Atmosphere of Excelsior Bay Books

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by Claire Johnson, sophomore writing coach

If you have ever wandered into the little bookstore in downtown Excelsior you have probably felt a calmness come over you while you notice all of the books drawing you in. If you are a book lover and have not experienced this I highly recommend stopping in and checking out this charming bookstore.

The atmosphere of Excelsior Bay Books is calm and inviting. The warm and cozy space is furnished with comfy couches perfect for previewing a book or taking a break from the world around you. The bookstore is an amazing place to experience an atmosphere of peace and quiet. Personally, I enjoy regrouping and reading books at Bay Books to let out some of the stress and pressures that come from being a high school student.

The bookstore is family friendly and an important treasure in our community. The store is located in downtown Excelsior across the street from Lick’s Unlimited and has been open for almost 21 years, offering a quaint space for literature lovers.

The peaceful bookstore is equipped with an extraordinary staff. The women who work there are always welcoming and helpful and easy to converse with. Often when I find myself in the bookstore I end up having interesting and engaging conversations with the owners. The staff are also very accomplished and dedicated. Last year, one of the employees won the James Patterson award, a monetary donation given to independent booksellers making a difference in the literary world.

The store also contains many different varieties of books. They include children’s books, coloring books, books appealing to all interests, and thick, thought provoking novels. In addition, they sell puzzles, bookmarks, toys, and puppets. If you do not find the book you are looking for you can also special order any book you are interested in reading.

Throughout the year the bookstore participates in Community Reads, and hosts speakers and events that anyone can come and see. They bring in authors and you could be lucky enough to walk out with a signed copy of their book.

With the increase of books sold online every year very few independently owned bookstores still exist. We are extremely lucky to have the privilege to experience the magic of a welcoming and local bookstore where you can pick up and hold the books. So please, stop in and experience this tranquil magic for yourself at the Excelsior Bay Books.

 

Tired of the same old same old? Read Heap House by Edward Carey

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By Anne Malloy, junior writing coach and Writing it Out co-editor

Looking for a unique read? Look no further. Heap House, by Edward Carey, is one of the most intriguing books I have ever read. It’s somewhat of a dark and quirky read, complete with a multiple perspective narration and creepy illustrations….

The book follows the story of Clod Iremonger, a boy who lives with his family in a mansion amongst the trash heaps of a somewhat twisted version of London. No one in the Iremonger family, except for their grandfather, has access to the outside world. They are born in the house and die there – a fate Clod wishes to escape. When things at the house go amiss, Clod begins to uncover the dark secrets of his family’s empire: secrets that are better left untouched.

There is nothing predictable about this story. It has so many different components that make it difficult to explain, but I can best describe it as a Charles Dickens meets Lemony Snicket kind of read. It has a certain degree of morbid intrigue and comedy that make it hard to put down. I would highly recommend Heap House to anyone looking for a refreshing read – something different than they have ever read before.

Calling all fans of The Fault in Our Stars…

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by Amanda Tahnk-Johnson, junior writing coach

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon is a new YA book that is a perfect read for over break. Madeline is an average teenage girl, except for the fact that she has a rare disease that forces her to stay inside her house at all times. One day a new neighbor in the form of a very cute boy named Ollie moves in next door and… (You can guess the rest).

This book is told in the form of Diary of a Wimpy Kid-esque journal entries, complete with drawings, internal dialogue and even not-so-subtle movie spoilers. I totally fell in love with the main character and her personality within the first few pages.

I recommend this book to anyone in the mood for a quick read that will make you smile and appreciate everything we take for granted.

A Perfect Holiday Read: Louise Erdrich’s LaRose

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photo from The New York Times

by Anna Heinen, junior writing coach

Louise Erdrich, a Minnesota resident, book store owner, and, most importantly, insanely good author, constructed a book unlike any I have read before. LaRose has earned rave reviews from many, including The Washington Post and The New York Times. Here’s mine: The book opens on a Native American reservation in North Dakota, 1999. Within the first few pages Landreaux Iron accidentally kills his neighbor’s son, Dusty Ravich, while hunting a buck that had been roaming the woods. He was a precise and confident hunter, but he will never forgive himself for this accident. In an attempt to make up for the massive hole he has created in the Ravichs’ life, Landreaux and his wife decide to give them their son, LaRose. Although he is only five at the time, LaRose becomes a healer for the two families. But recovering from this loss is by no means easy; Dusty’s mother is obsessive about LaRose’s happiness and channels her grief into baking cakes. She also becomes cold to her daughter and is plagued by suicidal thoughts. Landreaux begins to doubt himself and falls back into a conflict with a former friend. And in the middle of it all, Erdrich explores the pasts of both Landreaux and LaRose’s namesake to deepen the understanding of their strong characters.

As a reader of this masterpiece, I was intrigued by the various layers of human interaction Erdrich represents. One of my favorites was when Landreaux’s daughters take Dusty’s sister under their wing. Erdrich’s characters are by no means flat; the entire book features character shifts that fascinated me. She cleverly weaves in bits of context that not only enhance the characters, but make this book like traveling though time. Erdrich uses her flawed and relatable characters as a lens into the filed-away parts of American history and society, like Native American assimilation boarding schools and poverty in the reservations. I absolutely loved seeing each character come to life and getting a personal view of the social problems she explores.

I always say that Harry Potter comes first in my list of favorite books, and I’ll stick to that, but LaRose and its partner book, The Round House, come very, very close to Harry Potter. I can’t express how crazy good this book is. Thank you, Louise Erdrich for this gem!

Save Me the Waltz book review: Become immersed in the Jazz Age

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We’re excited to announce that we’re making Sunday book reviews a regular occurrence! Book reviews will be posted every other week. This first review is by Katie ward, a junior writing coach.

Who embodies American literature better than F. Scott Fitzgerald? What is more beautiful than crippling first loves, mad devotion, and champagne, set in the dazzling 1920s? For all the glorious self-insertion utilized by Fitzgerald, it might be hard to imagine that he was ever anything less than a tearfully romantic American dream from our own hometown. This isn’t necessarily untrue – but Gatsby took a little more immorality than it appears.

Time for a flashback to your sophomore year! In addition to writing The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life was comprised of many twists and turns. In April, 1920, F. Scott married Zelda Sayre in New York after a two year on-again, off-again relationship. The couple quickly became the emblem of the Jazz Age following the success of This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned. In 1924, the two moved to France with their daughter, cheated on each other, developed alcoholism, and then moved back. Their increasingly competitive relationship drove Zelda to unhealthy obsessions and F. Scott to fueling them until, in 1930, Zelda was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for schizophrenia and suicidal attempts. F. Scott died ten years later, and in 1948, Zelda died in a fire in the Highland Psychiatric Hospital. It sounds like a story either of them could’ve written. But there’s beauty in their drama – described by Zelda herself in Save Me the Waltz.

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The novel chronicles Alabama Beggs and her relationship with an up-and-coming painter, David Knight. A thinly disguised autobiography, Zelda depicts the startlingly manipulative dynamic between the couple, from affairs, to illness, to squandered commercial success. The story is essentially the Wikipedia page about the Fitzgeralds. But as enthralling as the plot is, Save Me the Waltz’s truly remarkable achievement is its intoxicatingly rich prose. Poetic and emotionally devastating, Zelda’s hopes rise and fall along with Alabama’s and the readers’. The spiral of insecurity and helplessness forced onto both Zelda and Alabama brings the reader to a near dream-like state of realism. When I was reading it, the French Riviera became the site of my own emotional demise; my muscles ached from Alabama’s tireless ballet practice. And I promise you: after reading this masterpiece, you will never think of Daisy Buchanan without pity again.

Save Me the Waltz reminds me of dreaming. Full of pastels and diamonds and moonlight and theatre seats, tragedy seems comfortable in Zelda’s honest voice. No interest is uncovered. No matter what your level of fixation on the Fitzgeralds is (because none of us are immune), open yourself to the beauty and disparity of their Jazz Age.

*If you are interested in purchasing Save Me the Waltz, follow this link: Save Me the Waltz

Milk and Honey: a semi-book review and connection to images and poetry

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By Priscilla Trinh, junior writing coach

A friend gave me a coloring book and a book of poems for my 16th birthday. I was taken aback; who colors and has the time to read poems nowadays? But in the midst of initial shock, I was touched. I wanted to shout in relief. It had been too long since I laid hands on either of these novelties, and this gift was a reminder that I’m never too old to color or read poetry with drawings on the side.

The poem book is titled “milk and honey” by Rupi Kaur. It is relatively small, like a journal or planner, its black cover punctuated by bright white font and dainty drawings of bees. As I delved into the book, I realized it was a heartbreaking journey about a woman, from her childhood through the present, on what it is like to be a recovering rape victim. Oof. Looking at the innocent cover, who would’ve imagined the heavy, but achingly beautiful words that this book possessed. But it was not the words alone that captured me – it was the sketches that accompanied the sides of the pages. These were not the Silverstein drawings of fond childhood memories, these were loud; raw portraits of the emotional rollercoaster depicted in the poems. I was caught off guard by the sketches, but they also intrigued me; I welcomed them with interest. I call them sketches because they are not refined drawings — they consist of jagged edges and lines that loop off the page. Sometimes they depict what is literally happening in the poem, and sometimes they are more like mixed symbolism. I found the image use to be clever, because not only do the sketches solidify what was conveyed in the poem, but they provide insight into what Kaur was going through: they personify her emotions and give them a face, if you will. The sketches helped me visualize her journey, like a music video to a song, making the read all the more real.

This got me thinking of the images going through my head whenever I’m reading or writing. Reading is like watching a movie in words. I find that whenever I’m starting an essay, paper, or really any response in any subject, I always have an image or symbol fixed in my mind. Whether that be the foggy moors of England, a diagram, or a green light, having a picture in your mind can help guide your ideas. By having this image, you are able to tie in other aspects of your argument, say why the particular visual stood out to you, and how it connects to that main point. It’s analogous to having a web diagram — start with a central key point, and create cohesion by linking in other strands. The image you choose doesn’t even have to be the main point, rather it can complement the message you are trying to convey, like in “milk and honey.” Kaur’s story is saturated with angst and hope, but these emotions wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful without the sketches to emphasize her message and provide powerful deliverance.

Symbols, sketches, drawings, and other visual aids all serve to open up an interpretive take on any piece of text. The next time you are prompted to respond, I encourage you to grasp onto a scene in that story or a passage from that textbook and let it guide your writing.  

A Little Reading in a Big Chair

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by Grace Bonde, senior writing coach

The school schedule has become familiar again and fall is beginning to make itself known. The leaves are changing colors, the weather is growing cooler, and the days are growing shorter. It is the season of warm drinks, pumpkin spice, and nestling into big armchairs.

You’re a teen now, but think back to when you were little and your parents would pull you up into a big armchair to read you a book before bed. It may have been only five minutes, but that bedtime story was an essential part of your nightly routine. The tone of the reader calmed your five-year-old racing mind and relaxed your little body into sleep. The story was something to think about, other than all the games to be played and adventures to be had.

You’re older now, but Teen Read Week (October 9-15) reminds us that we can carry those habits with us today. By carving out a little time to read every night, you can go to sleep without worry of unfinished tasks or thoughts of what tomorrow will bring. When you’re done, you come back to your life with less anxiety and a fresh perspective.

Although it’s already Thursday and Teen Read Week is almost over, it’s never too late to start. The ideas and habits you start this week can carry on long into the future. So when life has you stressed, grab a book, find a big armchair to cozy up in, and take five minutes to read. If you’re like me, it’ll turn into thirty.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Book Review

A store assistant holds copies of the book of the play of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child parts One and Two at a bookstore in London

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by Anna Heinen, junior writing coach

*SPOILER ALERT*
(some minor content will be revealed!)

This summer, Harry Potter’s birthday was marked with the publication of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play script. The play is written by the British playwright Jack Thorne and created with the help of JK Rowling. I celebrated the occasion by waiting around in the nearest book store with my sister until the next shipment of books came, then proceeded to read the entire play aloud in just two days.
The story begins 19 years after the battle of Hogwarts with Harry’s son, Albus, leaving for Hogwarts in his first year. Being Harry Potter’s son, he is typecasted to be Gryffindor through and through and a great quidditch player. Harry, however, struggles balancing his job as Head of Magical Law Enforcement and being the accepting father he should be, while Albus faces criticism for befriending Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius (despite the nasty rumors going around about Scorpius). Wishing to impress his father, Albus takes on the dangerous task of changing the past, and the play culminates in some truly magical time travel.
Personally, I thought it was a great story, but, as the actual play was written by Jack Thorne and not J.K. Rowling, it lacked the usual zing found in the original Harry Potter books. Because it is in play form, the inner emotions of the characters are not represented with a narrator, and portraying those emotions is left up to the actors. Just reading the play and not seeing the actors on stage makes the reader feel as if the characters are foreign; this is a similar experience to getting to know a character in a book then watching the movie and having your image be shattered.
Despite this slight disappointment, I loved stepping back into the magical world for two days. Not only did it set in stone my detest for Dolores Umbridge, but it also was amazing to see Hermione live out her role as MINISTER OF MAGIC! I think that this story was just what fans needed: an assessment of Harry’s role as a father along with an examination of his past, all through the eyes of his son.