mvelasco's picture
mvelasco from Canada is reading Mother Night October 11, 2016 - 6:48pm

They say in order to become a real writer, you must first read Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, Woolf, Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald,and many more literary classics. But what if you have read instead J.K Rowling, Gillian Flynn,Chuck Palahniuk, Irvine Welsh, etc. Does that ruin your chances of achieving greatness? Of understanding the complexities of literature? I know art is considered subjective in nature but take painting for example: you don't see expresionist or minimalist painters spending countless hours reading about cubanism or surealism. So what is it about literature that we are fed "must read" lists about literary classics?

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal October 11, 2016 - 7:03pm

Who exactly is "they" anyway?

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman October 12, 2016 - 5:00pm

There's always someone willing to tell you what you have to do to be a real writer...

I think most writers will agree that reading a lot is the best thing you can do next to writing a lot. And reading a lot means reading a variety. I try and fit in a classic every year or so, and even though I don't usually love them, I think there's something to be learned from reading something, even if you don't enjoy it on a reader level.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann November 4, 2016 - 9:32pm

I don't think I've heard anyone say this, but if they did it would be good advice. If you want to learn how to craft meaningful narratives; how to create sympathetic identification; how to break rules for the better; how to change a reader's mental maps with descriptive writing; how to challenge settled assumptions, beliefs, and priorities; how to say in a few hundred words what others would take hundreds of pages in prose essays to say; how to write stories that expand your experience of knowledge; how to transport readers to another time, place, or someone else’s mind; or how to hold and direct an audience’s attention, then it would do you well to study literature.

If you think Shakespeare has nothing to teach you about writing, you could do with a reality check. The mechanics of what these writers were doing and how much precision and planning and knowledge went into their craft will blow your mind if you study them closely.

A better question would be, not why we have classics, but why our classics are so white and male. Your list seems to only just go up to the 60's for some reason. As a literature major, I can assure you there are plenty of recent authors whose works are considered "worth studying" in academic circles. David Foster Wallace, Salman Rushdie, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Louise Erdrich, Kurt Vonnegut, for example. I would say Palahniuk and Ellis and Welsh and Rowling and many others are worth studying, but if you want to really learn to write well, you should absolutely delve into the past and see what the authors who perfected many of the techniques that these authors use or build on today were doing. Enjoyment of art is subjective. Well-crafted technique is more of an objective, demonstrable quality. You can marvel at Shakespeare's use of structure, tropes, character, and so on and so forth and still hate reading his plays (although I can't imagine not getting a single thing out of such witty, funny, irreverent, insightful, beautiful writing). I really can't stomach Jane Austen. I still think she was a master of Free Indirect Discourse: the inter-mingling of a satirical narrator with characters who take themselves too seriously. Whether I enjoy her or not, I will still look at and study the mechanics of her writing when I'm thinking about doing something similar.

 

I know art is considered subjective in nature but take painting for example: you don't see expresionist or minimalist painters spending countless hours reading about cubanism or surealism. So what is it about literature that we are fed "must read" lists about literary classics?

The equivalent scenario would not be a painter reading about cubism and surrealism, but a painter looking at cubist and surrealist art. Which is actually something that they do, because they understand that they can learn a lot from others who have burned their mark into cultural history, who perfected particular techniques and were masters of their craft. Most painters that I know would commit or cover up murder several times over to be able to study under Caravaggio. I paint and work at an art supplies store that services artists and art students, many of whom are painters. You'd be hard-pressed to find one among them who would say that looking at the works of Dali or Picasso is a waste of time. (If you did happen upon one, I'd wager money they'd be a pretentious, self-important prick who does not respond well to criticism.)

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 4, 2016 - 10:49pm

Maybe a strategy might be to study these classics without actually reading them all. Just having an idea here, but! If you listen to an expert delve into why they're so great, breaking it down, going over it, to the point that you know the entire story and his expert take on things... and it turns out that listening to the expert is much more palatable than reading the damn thing... maybe that's a work-around? 

(Even if the expert's a white male.)

I remember my Jr year of AP English in high school, when we teenagers preoccupied with pop music and sex were made to read thigns that... well, damn near all adults wouldn't get anything out of... I certainly didn't... like motherfucking Dickens. Seroiusly, A Tale of Two Cities is not something a sophomore will understand, or do anything other than hate when reading. I'll stop digressing.

Ahem. I used to read the "introductions" for the stuff we were assigned. Those were amazingly useful! Not just in passing the test (that too, though), but in knowing just what the fuck was going on. The stuff we had to read had no context in my mind regarding their time period and/or author's time period, general story-telling, place in literary history, place in any history, nothing! Nothing but a bunch of words I knew but didn't understand... But those explanations were gold. I ended up reading them instead of the actual story most of the time.

Or! I don't plan to ever read, or watch, Pride and Prejudice, but Dan Wells gives a great talk on a "7 point system" in which he uses it, (along with The Matrix, Othello, and The Tell Tale Heart) to illustrate how the "system" works. (youtube it, it's worth a watch.) Pride and Prejudice was the only one on the list I wasn't familiar with, but he did just fine in showing me how the story worked, and I learned plenty from the analysis.

So I'm sure this will be equated to the CliffsNotes solution or whatever, but if you can learn about a book that's impossible to get through, maybe you don't have to endure the drudgery of actually reading it. 

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann November 5, 2016 - 5:52am

Our education systems have surely failed...

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 5, 2016 - 8:13am

I wouldn't argue that point over all, but...

I bet could say the same thing about you. How well can you do integrals? 

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman November 5, 2016 - 1:59pm

I don't think I'll make the argument that there's nothing to be learned from classics. But I think a lot of the same lessons can be learned in a more palatable way.

The Canterbury Tales, for example, are from 1389. I don't understand 90% of what's happening, what the wordplay is supposed to mean, any of it, really, which is to be expected. It's like trying to watch Superbad in the year 2700. But it's a very early example of a frame story or story within a story.

If I'm studying writing, I don't think reading the Canterbury Tales is the best way for me to learn about that technique. It's early comedy writing, but I don't think I will learn as much from it as I might from something that's a bit easier to parse. 

All this to say, I think there's a bit of a bias in art/literature towards who did it first and historical merit as opposed to who did it best. Possibly because "best" is so subjective where "first" is a little easier to decide on. We consider Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley to be writers of classics. They show up in English classes all the time, but not Stephen King, and I think it's because Stephen King didn't do it first and because he's contemporary. Or maybe it's because we see serious study and enjoyment as things that can't go together. Or maybe it's because of the idea that when we study literature, it has to be "hard" to be worth doing. 

I think you could study Stephen King and learn a lot. If you read The Long Walk, you can learn so much about pacing (pun!). You can learn a lot about writing something that seems like it couldn't sustain for 200+ pages and totally does. How to move from the physical world to the character's mind seamlessly. 

Maybe my response is that I don't think study of literature, for purposes of writing, has to be difficult, and I don't know if I buy into the idea that someone who creates a difficult course of study will come out a better writer than one who has made a study of literature that's different, provides some good narratives and styles, and is pleasurable to read as a straight-up story.

At the same time, for some, studying more difficult texts is pleasurable, and I don't think that's a bad route either. I kinda thing you have to pick your own road, and it probably has more to do with whether or not you do the work as opposed to how noble the plans are.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 5, 2016 - 2:36pm

You know, we humans often have this thing where we tend to think the past was better. Why? Who knows. Prosperity and quality of life only increases over history, yet every generation thinks the next is ruining everything. It's a funny thing. 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 5, 2016 - 2:39pm

Maybe my response is that I don't think study of literature, for purposes of writing, has to be difficult, and I don't know if I buy into the idea that someone who creates a difficult course of study will come out a better writer than one who has made a study of literature that's different, provides some good narratives and styles, and is pleasurable to read as a straight-up story.

PS, wonderfully written paragraph you have there.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 5, 2016 - 2:53pm

Wait a second... I'm thinking more about this...

Our education systems have surely failed...

Just for the context of this conversation regarding the "classics" and not for the overall dismal education system we have... I think the opposite is true. At 16, 17, I wasn't ever going to get anything out of all those "classics" they wanted us to consume. At 14, A Tale of Two Cities was the dumbest thing to have me read. At that age, there's just no way. Not one kid in my class (and there were some real smarties and real bookworms) knew what the shit was going on in that Dickens nightmare. And we hated it. Trying to read through it, that shoe cobbler with his... whatever he did... it just made us all hate it, and reading, and books, and literature, and anything related, more than ever. 

But when I read those introductions, when I was being told about these "classics" rather than having to force myself through them, I did get something out of it. I learned things!

Shit, I just realized that was one of the few times the education system, in my experience with it, actually did better than you'd expect!

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann November 5, 2016 - 4:10pm

Thuggish: I can’t help you.

 

Helpfulsnowman: I agree Canterbury Tales would not be helpful to study. It’s in Middle English, which is almost another language. Shakespeare wrote in Early Modern English, which is (surprisingly!) the English that we use today. His language is closer to ours and it becomes intuitive and easier and easier with exposure. There are also small tips that make a huge difference: namely, taking a second to identify the subject and the verb (which are often in weird places, causing 90% of the confusion), and making note of about 3-4 words that he uses that have drastically different meanings from how we use them. Those 2 things tend to be the rosetta stone to being able to breeze through Shakespeare. There are a few words here and there that need translation, but almost all copies of his plays come with footnotes for those words. He's really quite modern and hilarious (he makes fart jokes, for god's sake) once you acclimate yourself to the language. It's sort of like riding a bike.

The finer point is not that something old is worthwhile because it’s old. Rather, there are certain authors who innovated or really did a huge amount of the legwork for shaping particular writing techniques (things that have objective, physical properties and qualities that can be listed and described), and that one of the oldest and most effective tools to learn writing, the imitatio (yes, imitatio, not imitation), involves emulation through grammatical substitution. James Joyce and FID, Virginia Woolf and stream of consciousness. I can break both of these styles down into descriptions, but the descriptions will not make sense without the examples, and the power of the techniques themselves will make very little sense if taken out of the context of the larger work. The process of improving your writing through reading “classics” would involve a very large plurality, not just one or two particular books. A multitude of genres, a multitude of authors, and multitude of works by individual authors. You do not need to read Mary Shelley to learn to write horror, but you may want to read Mary Shelley to learn her hypnotizing descriptive writing style, or to learn more about variations of first person narrative mode and the unique things that can be done with it, or to learn more about on of many ways that one can act out the Overcoming the Monster plot type, or to learn about how to use fantasy/horror allegorically to communicate a finer point. For Shelley, I think her work The Last Man is far more interesting than Frankenstein. But I would not recommend reading just one work or author, and I would not recommend reading just one genre.

My enthusiasm for this discussion has sort of fizzled out. If anyone has specific questions in regards to what I've written, I'm glad to answer, but otherwise I've made the point I wanted to and I'm tapping out.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 5, 2016 - 5:03pm

BW: you, certainly can't.

But here's something fun! You don't need to know any equations regarding black holes or singularities to share a general understanding of what they do in the universe. If I were to get on my high horse and bemoan the failure of the education system, or the science network, or whatever, for not including those formulas in the latest show hosted by Neal deGrasse Tyson... I'd be missing the point. And I think you are too.

Maybe there's another analogy: I work at a place that designs pumps. Even the senior level guys don't know how every pump in the world is created, not even close. Nor do they even know how all the pumps in the past have ever been created, even of the specific special kind that my company specializes in. It doesn't stop them from doing their jobs, and doing them very well.

Or, going with an already-used analogy, looking at the works of Picasso would certainly be of use to painters. But! If a great modern painter had, somehow, some way, never seen a Picasso, it's certainly possible he still become a great painter.

It's also possible that one particular painter may not get anything out of a Picasso. It's also possible that he hates Picasso, finds it dreadful, and finds it a waste of his own time to look and study all the works of Picasso. And maybe he even finds that listening to a Picasso expert talk about what Picasso did a better use of his time.

And then, if we consider Jackson Pollock and his "work," well... 

Or maybe not, and there's one and ONLY one way to learn about writing, and that's to study the classics dammit! To read them and love them and memorize what they did for the world because without them we would have nothing! And therefor you would have nothing! ONLY ONE WAY!!! IF I LOVE THEM THEN YOU MUST LOVE THEM TOO OR YOU ARE WRONG!!!!!

 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 5, 2016 - 5:12pm

Ooo, one more fun fact.

Elon Musk, that guy worth 11.3 billion last I googled... not only doesn't have an MBA, but despises them. He got a BS in physics and economics. Then he started building company after company...

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann November 5, 2016 - 7:20pm

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 5, 2016 - 9:19pm

People around here are sometimes so upset at an idea opposing their own... 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 5, 2016 - 10:23pm

So there's this book called Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Neitzche. Probably most people around here have heard of it. In it there's a parable in which a camel goes out into the desert (if I remember correctly) on his own. Then he becomes a lion. He's met by a dragon named "Thou Shalt." The dragon's scales each have a command on them, "thou shalt" do this, or that, or whatever. The lion must slay this dragon, and he must slay it with "I will." If the lion can slay this dragon, he becomes a child, innocent, new, born and ready to grow.

This is a parable about becoming a man from a boy. The camel, representing a youth so burdened with the demands of society, his parents, his friends, whoever, goes off on his own, like a young man moving through teenagerhood and faced with adulthood. The dragon, all of society's and the world's demands, "thou shalt, thou shalt, thou shalt," representing everyone telling him what he must be and how he must live. His transformation into the lion, to fight and kill the dragon and become free of this tyranny, or to forever bow to it. What great imagery to represent the fight a young man must go through with the expectations of the world, and whether he'll choose his own path, become his own man, or be what everyone else expects him to be. Then, the transformation to a a baby, new and innocent, nothing yet placed upon him. That's what the young man is like if he slays that dragon, unburdened with the "thou shalts." Ready to grow into something anew. 

It's a great story, and I only recently came to understand it, but it left an impression. I really learned a lot and came to see things a little differently, with a little more understanding, after hearing that. Particularly when looking at teenage boys I know, though it applies to middle aged men I know as well. I looked at that story with regard to my own life and experiences. It was truly a great learning experience for me.

Want to hear something crazy though? I learned about it from a guy telling the story, as it related to him and someone asking him about it, on youtube.

Never read the book.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann November 6, 2016 - 8:41am

"People around here are sometimes so upset at an idea opposing their own..."

I'm pretty sure him saying this is a defense mechanism called projection. Am I crazy, or does everyone else see it too?

 

You're getting this one response from me. If you keep trying to engage and steer the topic of the thread off course into petty bullshit, I will have one sentence for you, and that’s the last I will say to you. It will be a question. It will hit below the belt. You’re not going to like it. You're going to cry to everyone about how mean I am to you. Everyone is seeing right now that I'm giving you fair warning.

Except that’s not what that parable means. It's a story of the Ubermensch, who exists apart from society and morality, who sees themselves as above morality, better than others, Nazi undertones included. Although Nietzsche would say to apply the concept to racial purity is a misunderstanding, the overall ethic (or lack thereof) of his philosophy grounded a lot of Nazi propaganda, the same way slight misreadings of Ayn Rand ground American capitalist greed (she's not quite as bad as Martin Skrelli, but still pretty bad). The "thou shalt" dragon is common law and morality, not the teenage angst of a boy whose teachers make him read A Tale of Two Cities. Unfortunately for Nietzsche, human beings don't exist in individualist, amoral vaccuums apart from society. If you were divorced from society and education in that way, you'd be a feral child. Human beings exist in community and in context. If you don't like books but want to understand it, you can try watching Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6JVQ7miq8U

Let's not even go into the sexist dimensions of your implication that mathematics and science are beyond my scope of understanding (based on no information whatsoever other than perhaps the photo next to my username), because I know how much my previous criticism of the whiteness and maleness of literary classics annoyed you.

I didn’t say that you need to study the classics to write or that you need to love them. I boldly claimed that you can learn unique things from studying them. If you’d formed a habit of reading full texts instead of skimming introductions and looking for Cliffs Notes, or even if you just asked me about it, you might’ve known that.

In spite of that, I can’t not point it out: Jackson Pollock went to art school and was self-professedly inspired by his teachers, Native American art, and surrealism, numbnuts. Example of the brilliance of lack of education on classic artists ironically undone by lack of education on a classic artist.

Maybe you meant Charles Dickens. That guy you’ve been dissing. He dropped out of grade school and mostly only read contemporary popular authors.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 6, 2016 - 10:25am

I'm pretty sure him saying this is a defense mechanism called projection. Am I crazy, or does everyone else see it too?

I LOVE opposing opinions! That's when things get interesting! I love hashing it out, back and forth, I say nay, you say yay, let's have at it. You on the other hand...

What I see from you is the most narrow minded viewpoint I may have ever encountered. You don't say anything to the effect of "I disagree because..." thus allowing for an exchange of opposing ideas. You like to make little quips and insults. Instead of taking any time to figure out what someone like me is even saying, you go on a rant. You call me out for petty bullshit, but I don't start these things. You do. Because I dare to express an opinion that dissents from your own. (Or sometimes, don't, but you think I do.) 

When I read something like... 

(If you did happen upon one, I'd wager money they'd be a pretentious, self-important prick who does not respond well to criticism.)

... from you, it has to be the most ironic thing ever said. Self-important prick? From the one who went on a 7-8-whatever hundred word rant because I once pointed out that an exercise your professor taught you had echoes of somethign I liked to do?

Doesn't respond to criticism? My god, have you noticed your own reaction to an idea surfaces that counters your own? The very shadow of criticism sends you spiraling!

And pretentious? From the one who says 

Thuggish: I can’t help you.

..? From the one who once said

I congratulate you, however, on the comfortable bliss you must feel.

..?

From the one who can't help but point out how many degrees she has? HA! 

 

Go find another Malcolm in the Middle meme.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 6, 2016 - 1:28pm

Being fed "must-read classics" is no worse than being fed a "flavor of the week".

You can learn something from anything you read. If you want to be on the same page as the people saying what's essential, you should read what they suggest. If you don't, don't.

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien November 6, 2016 - 3:09pm

> You can learn something from anything you read.

Yup. And sometimes the biggest lesson is, Whoa! I ain't never readin' that guy again!

> If you want to be on the same page as the people saying what's essential, you should read what they suggest. If you don't, don't.

Cool. I suggest everybody read this.

(Seriously, everybody should read this).

How The Devil Came Down Division Street

Last Saturday evening there was a great argument in the Polonia Bar.  All
the biggest drunks on Division were there, trying to decide who the biggest
drunk of them was.  Symanski said he was, and Oljec said he was.  Koncel
said he was, and Czechowski said he was.

Then Roman Orlov came in and the argument was decided.  For poor Roman Orlov
had been drunk so long, night and day, that when we remember living men we
almost forget poor Roman; as though he were no longer, really, among the
living at all.

"The devil lives in a double-shot," Roman would explain himself obscurely.
"I've got a great worm inside.  He gnaws and gnaws.  Every night I drown him
and every day he comes gnawing back.  He gnaws and gnaws.  Help me drown the
worm tonight, fellas…help me drown the worm."

So I bought poor Roman a double-shot and asked him, frankly, how it was that
before he was even thirty, he had come to be the biggest drunk on Division
Street.

It took a long time, and many double-shots for him to tell.  But tell it he
did, between curses and sobs.  And I tell it to you now, as closely as I
can; without the sobs, of course.  And of course without any cursing.

When Roman was thirteen, it seems, the Orlovs moved into three stove-heated
rooms in the rear of a lopsided tenement on Noble Street.  Mama O. cooked in
a Division Street restaurant by day and cooked in her own home by night.
Papa O. played an accordion for pennies and drinks in Division Street
taverns by night, and slept all alone, in the lopsided rooms, by day.

There were only two beds in the tiny three-room flat.  So nobody encouraged
Papa O. to come home at all during the nighttime hours.

Because he was the oldest, Roman slept between the twins, who were seven, on
the bed set up in the front room.  Slept there to keep the pair from
fighting by night - as they fought so often by day.  Teresa, who was eleven
and could not learn her lessons as well as some of her classmates, slept
with Mama O., in the tiny windowless back bedroom…under a bleeding heart in
a gilded oval frame.

If Papa O. came home before daylight, as occasionally happened, he crawled
uncomplainingly under Roman and the twin's small bed in the living room.
Slept there until Roman rose and woke the twins for morning Mass, at which
time Papa O. would crawl up into Roman's bed.

If Udo - who was something between a collie and a St. Bernard and as big as
both together - was already curled up under Roman's bed, Papa O. slugged him
with the accordion in friendly reproach, and went on into the back bedroom
to crawl under Mama O.'s bed.  In such an event he slept under the bed all
day.  For he never crawled, even with daylight, into Mama O.'s bed.  Empty
or not.  He did not feel himself worthy to sleep there, even when she was
gone.

It was, as though, having given himself all night to his accordion, he must
remain true to it during the day.

For all manner of strange things went on in Papa O.'s head, as even the
twins had become aware, by the tender age of seven.  Things so strange that
Theresa was made ashamed of them by her classmates, whenever they wanted
somebody to tease.  This, too, was why no one - not even the twins - paid
Papa O. any heed when the family returned from Mass on Sunday forenoon and
he told them that someone had been knocking while they were away.

"Some-body was by door," he insisted.  "I say Hallo, Who there?  Was
no-body.  Who play tricks by Papa?"

"Maybe was Zolewitzes," Mama O. suggested indifferently.  Mama Z. comes,
perhaps to borrow."

That Sunday evening it was cold in all the corners of the home.  Papa O. was
gone to play for pennies and drinks.  Mama O. was frying pierogi on the
stove.  The twins were in bed and Teresa was studying her catechism across
the table from Roman…when somebody knocked twice on the door.

To Roman, it sounded like someone knocking lightly on the clothes-closet
door; but this was a foolish thing to think.  Yet when he opened the hallway
door, only a cold wind came into the room from the long, gaslit passage.

Roman, being only thirteen, stepped back inside the apartment.  He did not
dare look behind the clothes closet door.

All that night a light snow fell.  Roman O. lay wakeful in his bed between
the twins, fancying snow falling on darkened street corners all over the
mysterious earth; on the pointed rooftops of old-world cities, on the
mountain-high waves of the mid-Atlantic, and in the leaning eaves of Nobel
Street.  He was just drifting off to sleep when the knocking came again.
Three times, this time…like a measured warning.

The boy stiffened under the covers, listening with his fear.  Heard the hall
door squeak softly, as though Papa O. were sneaking in.  But Papa O. never
knocked, and Papa O. never sneaked.  Papa O. came home with the accordion
banging against buildings all the way down Noble Street.  Jingling his
pennies proudly, singing off key bravely, mumbling and stumbling and
laughing all the way.  Papa O. never knocked.  Papa O. kicked in the door
happily.  Shouted cheerfully, "Hallo!  What you say, all peoples?  How's
t'ings ever-body?"  Papa O. pulled people from their beds and rattled the
morning pots and pans.  He laughed at nothing and argued with unseen
bartenders, until somebody gave him sausage and eggs and coffee and bread;
walked him to Roman's now empty bed and hung the accordion safely away.

Roman rose from his bed and crept, barefooted, in the long underwear  Mama
O. had sewed on him back in the early fall, to the hallway door.

The whole house slept.  The windows were frosted and a thin line of ice had
edged up under the front window and along the pane.  The family slept.
Roman pushed the door open gently.  Down the hall, a single gas jet
flickered feebly.  Roman looked behind the door, shivering now with more
than cold.  Nothing, no one, nobody at all.  The tenement slept.

Roman returned to bed and prayed quietly all night, until the morning when
he heard Mama O. rise.  He waited until he heard her light the fire in the
big kitchen stove.  Then, dressing with his back to the stove, he told Mama
O. what he had heard.  Mama O. said nothing…

Two mornings later, Papa O. came home without the accordion.  It did not
matter then to Mama O. whether he had sold it or lost it or loaned it; for
she knew it at last for a sign.  She had felt the change coming, she said,
in her blood.  For she had dreamed a dream, all night, of a stranger waiting
in the gaslit hall.  A young man, drunken, leaning against the wall for
support, with blood down the front of his shirt and blood drying on his
hands.  She knew, as all Orlovs knew, that the unhappy dead return.  Return
to warn or comfort, to plead or repent, to gain peace…or to avenge.

That day, standing over steaming kettles, Mama O. went back in her mind to
all those dear to her of earth who had died: the cousin drowned at sea, the
brother returned from the war to die, the mother and father, gone from their
fields before she had married.  And that night, she knocked on Mama
Zolewitz's door.  Mama Z. sat silently…as though she had been expecting Mama
O. for many evenings.

"Landlord doesn't like we tell new tenants too soon," Mama Z. explained even
before being told of the knocking, "so you shouldn't say it, I told.

"It was a young man lived in this place, in your very rooms.  A strong young
man, and good to look at.  But sick, sick from the drink.  A sinner
certainly.  For here he lived with his lady, without being wed, and she
worked and he did not.  That he did not work had little to do with what
happened.  And the drink had little to do.  For it was being unwed that
brought it on, at night, on the New Year.  He returned from the taverns that
night, and beat her 'til her screams were but a whimpering.  Until her
whimpering became nothing.  A strong young man, like a bull, made violent by
the drink.  When the whimpering ceased there was no sound at all.  No sound
until noon, when the police came with shouting.

"What was there to shout about?  I could have told them before they came.
The young man had hanged himself in the clothes closet.  Thus it is that one
sin leads to another.  Both were buried together.  In unsanctified ground,
with no priest near."

Mama O. grew pale.  Her very own clothes closet.

"It is nothing to worry,"  Mama Z. advised her neighbor sagely.  "He often
comes.  But he does not knock to do harm.  He comes only to gain a little of
the peace that good Christian prayer for him may give.  Pray for the young
man, Mama O.  He wishes only peace."

That night after supper the Orlovs gathered in prayer about the front room
stove, and Papa O. prayed also.  For now that the accordion was gone the
taverns must do without him.  When prayer was done, he went off to bed like
a good husband with Mama O.  And the knocking did not come again.

Each night the Orlovs prayed for the poor young man.  And each night Papa O.
went off to bed with Mama O.

Mama O. knew then that the knocking had been a sign of good omen.  She told
this to the priest, and the priest blessed Mama O. for a Christian.  He said
it was the will of God that the Orlovs should redeem the young man through
prayer, and that Papa O. should have a wife instead of an accordion.

Papa O. stayed at home until, for lack of music, he became the best janitor
on Nobel Street.  Mama Z. went to the priest and told of her part in the
miracle of the poor young man.  And the priest blessed Mama Z., also.

When the landlord learned that his house was no longer haunted, he brought
the Orlovs gifts.  And when the rent was late he said nothing.  So the
priest blessed the landlord equally, and in time the Orlovs paid no rent at
all.  But prayed for the landlord instead.

Teresa became the most important person in her class, for it became known
that a miracle had occurred at the Orlov home.  Sister Mary Ursula said the
child looked more and more like a little saint everyday, and no other child
in her room ever had her lessons as well as Teresa, thereafter.

The twins sensed the miracle, and grew up to be fast friends; doing all
things together, even to wearing the same clothes and reading from the same
catechism.  Udo, too, knew that the home was blessed, for he received no
more blows from the accordion.

Only one sad aspect shadowed this great and happy change: poor Roman was
left bedless.  For with Papa O. home every night like a good husband, Teresa
must sleep between the twins.

And thus it came about that the nights of poor Roman Orlov became fitful and
restless; first under the front room bed and then under the backroom bed.
With the springs overhead squeaking half the night as often as not.

The nights of Roman's boyhood were thereafter passed beneath one bed or the
other, with no bed of his own at all.  Until, attaining his young manhood
and his seventeenth year, he took at last to sleeping during the day, in
order to have no need for sleep at night.

And at night, as everyone knows, there is no place to go but the taverns.

And so it was, being abroad with no place to go and the whole night to kill,
that Roman Orlov took his father's place in the taverns.  But he had no
accordion for excuse, only lack of a bed.  He came to think of the dawn,
when the taverns closed and he must go home, as the bitterest hour of the
day.  And this is why he still calls dawn "the bitterest hour".

Is this a drunkard's tale or sober truth? I can only say he told it like the
truth, drinking double-shots all the while.  I only know that no one argues
about who the biggest drunk on Division is if Roman O. is around.

I only know that Mama O. now tells, after many years and Papa O. in his
grave and the twins scattered…that the young man who came to knock was in
truth the devil.  For did she not give him, without knowing what she did, a
good son in return for a worthless husband?

"I'm drowin' the worm t'night," Poor Roman explains, talking to his
double-shot.  "Help me drown the worm tonight, fellas."

Does the devil live in a double-shot?  Is he the one who gnaws deep within?
Or is he the one who knocks, on cold winter nights…with blood drying on his
knuckles, in the gaslit passages of our dreams?

from the short story collection The Neon Wilderness, by Nelson Algren

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 6, 2016 - 3:05pm

Being fed "must-read classics" is no worse than being fed a "flavor of the week".

You can learn something from anything you read. If you want to be on the same page as the people saying what's essential, you should read what they suggest. If you don't, don't.

Yes!

But to go a step further, being force fed the classis, especially at a younger age, will make most people hate them. They then reject them, and the chance they could have had some day of appreciating them is usually blown. 

Likewise, forcing yourself to go through something and dreading it every moment is unlikely to produce much value to you. 

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman November 6, 2016 - 5:24pm

I think that writing is a thing people can come at different ways. Some people find what they're looking for in the classics. Some find it from reading modern stuff. And almost everyone, honestly, is a different blend of both classics and modern work. 50/50, 90/10, whatever.

My main disagreement, or maybe my feeling that's not so much a disagreement, is that most people seem to feel like their way is the right way, which it probably is. For them. But the right way for one person is not the right way for another.

It's like exercising. Lots of people want to lose weight. But I know those who, if they don't exercise, become skinnier, and their goal is to put on a little weight. The typical advice about exercise doesn't work for them because they are wired differently. 

Ultimately, I think this is something where no one has to be wrong except for the person who says, "This is the only path." Even that person isn't really wrong. They just left off "for me."

To all this, I built a couple bookshelves on Goodreads a few years ago, and they consist of the books that different MFA professors use. I've got Mark Richard, Amy Hempel. And a lot of them have authors that I'd never heard of, or was vaguely aware of without really knowing.

You can find these reading lists too, if you search for someone's name + "syllabus." You'd be surprised. And honestly, you can often email these folks and find out more. 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 6, 2016 - 5:57pm

My main disagreement, or maybe my feeling that's not so much a disagreement, is that most people seem to feel like their way is the right way, which it probably is. For them. But the right way for one person is not the right way for another.

This was the exact conclusion I'd hoped to work toward... Bravo!

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 6, 2016 - 6:43pm

@Kedzie --- Why that story? And is it not under copyright still? Is this "educational"?

@Thuggish --- I don't think kids need to enjoy everything they read or do in school. But some teachers just say, "You're reading this because it's important," without making any case as to why it's important or what the students are supposed to get from it. At mine, we had required reading and then we had a list of optionals from which we picked however many. I do think it helped ease the pain to have some say in the matter.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 6, 2016 - 7:34pm

I agree, school will inevitably be work, and work is not usually enjoyable. But you can't discount that when you're compelled to do something, you generally dislike it.

I was going to mention options but you beat me to it, that's definitely a huge improvement, I can see it in my oldest. I still advocate teaching about the books in addition to reading them. Shit, maybe even in replacement sometimes. And let's face it- most kids won't read most books assigned in English class anyway. Including many who get an A in the class.

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien November 7, 2016 - 4:45pm

@jyh - Why that story?

Because it's awesome.

It's fun, and it's a classic.

And yet it's easy to read (unlike the stuff high school English teachers assign). 

Why this author? Because, for me, (see Helpfulsnowman, I did it!) Nelson Algren was this country's greatest writer, bar none. Of course I'm biased. And yet nobody's ever heard of him, which makes me cry. Whaa!

And because it's Division Street, yo! Division is hipster heaven now. But back when I was a kid it was where we went for extreeeme fun and excitment. Shit always poppin' on Division. I got a soft spot for it.     

Re: Copyright. The story is 75 years old. Not sure about copyright laws, but it's easily found with a Google search. I met Nellie (RIP) once, saw him around lottsa times. We drank in his apartment and argued about crime and punishment (not the book). That was 42 years ago. I think he'd like the fact that I'm still out here pimpin' his work.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann November 7, 2016 - 8:26am

You asked me for it: So, Thuggish, if you’re the literary Jackson Pollock in your imaginary scenario where Jackson Pollock never went to art school, why does your writing suck so much?

 

“Being fed "must-read classics" is no worse than being fed a "flavor of the week".”

I agree. I think you can also learn tons about writing from cinema and TV and stand-up comedy and music. In literature, it can be totally arbitrary which work is upheld as a classic and which isn’t. It comes down to what literary critics think, not necessarily the people, the readers. I like reading everything I can get my hands on so that I can decide what I like and what I don’t like, what’s worthwhile and what isn’t.

What bothers me is the idea that things that are old are by default unenjoyable and inaccessible. Because the common opinion in the US is that reading is painful and more or less worthless. Which is why I didn’t (and still don’t) see a need to champion or ride to the defense of saying that literary classics are worthless.

I fell in love with literature when I read The Hobbit and The Metamorphosis, around 11 and 13. The book store was like a candy store. I’ve always wanted to read everything. Stuff like Brave New World, Othello, 1984, The Stranger, Heart of Darkness, Invisible Man: they were absolute magic for me. That’s not everyone’s experience, of course.

V.R.Stone's picture
V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow November 7, 2016 - 9:39am

If writer B learned a technique from writer A, then I can learn it from reading the work of writer B, can't I?

I think my approach is like Thuggish's - I also have more of a numerical/scietific/engineering background. If I can 'hack' writing, i.e. learn something via a shortcut, then I'm happy. I do not gain enjoyment from the process of learning, but I do love stories. I'm also less interested in literature that is hard work than I was when I was younger and hand more time on my hands.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 7, 2016 - 11:57am

So here's a new angle I, for one, like. Let's say you do read a classic, or a shitty romance novel or watch a lame movie with a so-so action scene... You can learn a lot from those too. All you have to do is ask, why didn't this piece work? Why did it suck? What would I have done to make it better?

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 7, 2016 - 12:03pm

if you’re the literary Jackson Pollock in your imaginary scenario where Jackson Pollock never went to art school, why does your writing suck so much?

No, no... Jackson Pollock is my example of something that many people hold up as great, when it's... you know, fucking splashes.

 

Because the common opinion in the US is that reading is painful and more or less worthless.

I couldn't agree more, and I want that attitude reversed, too! I still maintain that part, (almost all for the teenage years) of my appreciation for literature and so on was not from reading it. It was from being taught about it. Reading The Great Gatsby (something I got away with not doing, save for one paragraph that I analyzed for an assignment, and got an A), was something to suffer through.

Or, taking Hamlet, which I did read- and watch- and loved from the get go... I got more appreciation for it still when Mel Gibson was breaking it down, talking about it on some tape or whatever to a group of students. (Apparently he was trying to produce one starring Robert Downy Jr, but that never happened with the rehab and all.)

 

That’s not everyone’s experience, of course.

Exaaaactly. Classics have their place, that's why they're classics! Most of them (maybe all) didn't hang around for centuries and centuries for any reason other than being good at something, probably many things. But a person's experience with them will vary as much as their writing. And! My tangential point is that forcing kids to read them will almost always make them hate them. Which is a terrible thing to do. It's the goal, not the method, we should be focused on.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 7, 2016 - 12:25pm

@bethwenn --- I agree. People shouldn't default to ruling out old stuff any more than ruling out new stuff. People don't like the so-called "hoity-toity" attitudes they detect in Serious Literature; I don't like the "Objective fact: McDonald's makes the best hamburgers" attitude I detect in Poptimism. And, man, I tried Heart of Darkness like three times; could never make it, sad to say. Brave New World was a big one for me too, though.

@V.R.Stone --- To a degree, I think that's correct. Unless writer A was actually provides the first known example of a technique, it's hard to say why one should read A over B without specifics. Abstract variable-based hypotheticals aren't always applicable, of course. It really just depends on to what depth you wish to go. You can read Plato, or you can read a summary of his stuff. Either can allow you to learn something. But, regarding fiction, if you like writer B, maybe you want to see the influences first-hand, or maybe that doesn't matter to you. People all agree everything comes from somewhere, but that seems for some people to alleviate them of discovering anything historically particular. But ultimately people can write a story without knowing the history of the genre, form or structure.

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry November 8, 2016 - 2:46pm

I'm honestly kinda saddened. You guys don't even know how to properly talk shit to each other any longer.

Where's Strange Photon when you need him? There's a guy that knew how to stir some shit up.

KateRose's picture
KateRose from Chicago is reading The Making of a Story November 8, 2016 - 4:37pm

Classics are tough but good for many.  They can, however, be less tough depending on the translator. For me, Steven King is impossible, not because he isn't good, but because he overwrites in too many places. I found Dickens and the Bronte gals way too florid. I like to-the-point kinda authors.

Greek plays like Agamemnon and Oedepus when translated really well (Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald) are straight ahead works of timeless themes that move forward with a decent pace. If readers need to, they can back into a Shakespeare work by first seeing a contemporary film that kills it such as the recent Lear with Fassbinder and Cotillard, or Coriolanus with Ralph Fiennes. I actually ran to the play in my library to re-read the monologue of Volumina's (Vanessa Redgrave) in Coriolanus.  It was word for word in the film. Gorgeous.  

Again, translators are not all equal.  Some can respect a classic and give a modern spin at the same time like David Mamet's translation of Chekov's Uncle Vanya.  Point is, I do agree that an occasional classic in one's reading list is like pulling out the special vintage wine or single malt scotch. On a regular basis I can go with modern authors and enjoy them like good craft beers, but sometimes I need heady sniffs of antiquity for a deeper reality check about life and the world.

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. November 10, 2016 - 8:52pm

Thuggish. Problem: You are not successfully sending a message from your brain to my brain via what you commit to the page. That is your problem.  I don't care what route you find, but if you want to write, it is a problem you are going to have to tackle. For every word you put on the page I have to skip one hundred in order to try to hang in there with you for the climax of your thought. One way to approach that problem is to look at the craft of someone who has overcome it, and someone whose voice you enjoy. Your writer voice is murmuring, as if into your hand and I am not able to understand you. Doesn't mean you don't have a voice, it means you have not made it audible to me. I cannot hear you.

If you want me to hear you, you have to speak more clearly.

Speak to the last row in the house.

 

 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 10, 2016 - 10:05pm

...

Not following.

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. November 11, 2016 - 12:18am

Thuggish. Your message does not compute because your writing does not carry your message. You make me work too hard to get what you are saying. I get tired and walk away. I  get bored. It's fine if you don't care that I get bored, and you write for yourself, or an audience that is not me. It's a matter of translating from brain to page to brain. You allude to mathematical stuff that means nothing to me, so I have no doubt you are brilliant. I just don't understand what you say about half to 80% of the time. I would enjoy reading a piece of work that you are happy with and want to share. Anything. Poem. story, essay, review. Something with a title and a beginning and middle and end. I would like to see your work, although I do not understand your opinions about anything. That is all..

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann November 11, 2016 - 10:44am

I can see how others could find Conrad boring (I'm a nerd and a lot of stuff I like is probably boring), but I just get lost in his descriptive writing.

and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence. The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it.

Gives me chills!

 

“sometimes I need heady sniffs of antiquity for a deeper reality check about life and the world.”

I love that. Wonderful metaphor. There's so little commonality in the writing styles of what we lump together as "classics" too, I think many of them go down as smoothly as the modern type craft beers. Your point about the importance of a good translation feels like an important one. There are also many English language works that are as approachable as modern fiction, and there are modern works that challenge you just as much as some classics do (e.g. David Foster Wallace).

 

"I would enjoy reading a piece of work that you are happy with and want to share. Anything. Poem. story, essay, review. Something with a title and a beginning and middle and end. I would like to see your work, although I do not understand your opinions about anything. That is all.."

Agreed. It would be nice to see you post something in the workshop, Thuggish. I think the first post is a freebie (does anyone else remember?), so nothing to really lose.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 11, 2016 - 1:01pm

Well smitheyreynolds, that was actually my point with the math stuff. (That I used to be kind of good at... i don't know about "brilliant.") Soemtimes I pose something with the intent to keep a convo going, and not have it all at once. i also like to imply.

So, to elaborate, since we're further along: it was proposed that the schooling system has failed, presumably, because students have no appreciation for the likes of Dickens or whatever. I make the analogy that the schooling system has failed because most graduates can't perform integrals. Is that really why it's a failure? I don't think so.

Maybe I should be clearer who and what I'm responding to in a forum post... Hmmm, note self...

@bw

i've never really looked at the workshop area of the site. hell, i don't even know where to find it offhand. how much does one post at a time? i might consider it. i don't mind post-a-paragraph-ing.

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. November 11, 2016 - 1:30pm

Thuggish. Thank you. I understand every word of what you just wrote.  If I know you will post on post a paragrpah i will go and watch what you post. I actually just recently discovered it. I am looking to engage with others. I am looking to understand things that I might not agree with. I am looking to see writing from people that is different from what I have come to expect, and grow my writing into something I did not expect....Transformation of self and community is what I really am up to...the self part being pretty crucial.

So. I attune to anything you choose to post.  Transforming my own writing is my prime motivation. I find I am better able to do that if I will risk being a part of a community, even when it totally pisses me off. This is a tough house. This is a silent, withholding, suspicious, stand behind the door and peek through the crack kind of a place. That's fine....I always intuitively and emotionally am going to try to get that person to come out from behind the door and talk to me. It's my nature, and it is annoying, for me and for others.. So be it.

Three words, thirty words, 300 words, 3000 words. whatever.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 11, 2016 - 3:57pm

Yeah, it's been a while since I posted to that thread. I don't often have new stuff that would make any sense because I mostly do short paragraphs, a lot of back and forth dialogue, that kind of thing, that would just be too meaningless. Basically it's the opposite of bw's stuff, much as I like it. Which goes to another of your points- I also like seeing little snippets of totally different styles in that thread. (Side note- what ever happened to Devon..?)

One thing I've noticed- when I go to put a paragraph up, knowing it's going straight to an audience, however small, makes me want to refine it that much more. Even when I know it's not a good paragraph yet. 

Maybe start a new thread, because we're really off topic, and explain what you mean by...

I find I am better able to do that if I will risk being a part of a community, even when it totally pisses me off. This is a tough house. This is a silent, withholding, suspicious, stand behind the door and peek through the crack kind of a place.

and...

 

Three words, thirty words, 300 words, 3000 words. whatever.

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. November 11, 2016 - 4:53pm

I just meant, you can post any work of any length. It doesn't matter. 

Secondly. I need to think about. I'm on a little break from the Writer's Workshop, just because I got tired. It's a lot of work to do a good critique. It's also a lot of fun. It is pertinent to this thread "How to REad Like a Real Writer" because you have to really read people's stuff if you want to comment. To read like a real writer you have to open yourself up and be a little vulnerable. Let people's work in. LR is not heavy into that dynamic at the moment. I do not know why.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 11, 2016 - 4:59pm

How do you mean? I don't see how you're vulnerable by reading other people's stuff... I think letting people critique your stuff is when you're vulnerable.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann November 11, 2016 - 5:54pm

i've never really looked at the workshop area of the site. hell, i don't even know where to find it offhand. how much does one post at a time? i might consider it. i don't mind post-a-paragraph-ing.

If you want people to review it, things that are 100-2,000 words get more reviews and they get them quicker. Anything at or over 5,000 words tends to get ignored, sadly, or at least takes a week or so to get a review, but it depends.

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. November 11, 2016 - 6:11pm

Thuggish. Reading other people's stuff doesn't make you vulnerable. The second you start talking to them about their stuff you are as vulnerable as they are. You are vulnerable to pride, judgement, arrogance, and being an overbearing asshole. So. IT is a very gentle business, this critique stuff. Puts you face to face with yourself pretty fast. The generosity of a great critique is an art. IT is a nurturance and a challenge in restraint and generosity and truth. On a bad day it is being harsh and unhelpful and hurting the feelings of another human being. Tp me that is the height of vulnerability.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 12, 2016 - 8:54am

I don't see how potentially hurting someone else is the same level of vulnerability as getting hurt yourself. Interesting way to look at things.

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. November 12, 2016 - 9:07am

Thuggish. I suffer when I hurt someone. If I hurt someone, I  hurt myself.

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from the SF Bay Area is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien November 12, 2016 - 11:25am

Just an FYI: IIRC, Workshop fees are $90 annually, paid at $45 every six months.  

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann November 13, 2016 - 9:13pm

Agreed, Gail. What a beautiful way to put it. When you give critiques, you need patience, tact, and delicacy, which often means overcoming your ego. The most difficult of beasts. It also often involves stepping inside the shoes of someone very different from yourself. You need to let go of control and the things you may well hold dear but are subjective. Flippancy, criticism, and knee-jerk negative responses are easy. Being both open and helpful at once is not easy. Trying to help another writer become a better version of themselves is also a complicated and sometimes difficult thing to do without trying to turn that writer into you or what you like. It's a delicate business, primarily subjective, yet trying very hard to be objective. You're criticizing someone else's baby, the thing that they likely value a great deal about themselves. Identity, hard labor, and self-esteem are tied up in the thing that you're rating numerically and writing up the flaws of. If you don't get off on ripping out someone's gizzards and holding it up in front of their face, it sucks to write a review that comes off harsh and unhelpful. Diplomacy is a must. Sometimes I'll re-read a review I left and just wanna kick myself for the way I ended up wording one thing or another. For me, it's an intellectually and emotionally draining affair. I usually can't do several in one sitting if I want to do them well, and I don't see the point in doing it at all if you're not going to do it well.

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. November 13, 2016 - 9:59pm

Thanks bethwenn. I am currently taking a little break from reviewing. I have to gather my wisdom and strength again and regain my equilibrium, before I go tinkering with the deep deep feelings of a writer and their work. I have made some serious mistakes in the last seven months and I do not intend to make the same mistake twice.

It is all about the very intent of this thread which is to read like a writer, which to me means just as bethwenn so beautifully stated. If you really do want to see another writer blossom, and there is nothing quite so exciting as that, then you have to think like god and regard the work as the best possible thing that writer could do in that moment and honor the place that it came from, not what it happens to look like to you on first view.

My granddaddy told me if you see a cardboard box in the road, always expect there to be a kid inside. That was his experience and his counsel.