Jenny’s Summer Reading Program

At work, I set up a display for the high schools’ summer reading. As I was setting it up, I realized that I have never read any of them. Insightful as this was, it irritated me. Here I am, with aspirations to write literature and I’ve never read these creations from the masters of literature. I was also just irked that a high schooler should know more than me about any of these. (I realize they’ll probably skim them, at best, but one or two of those guys will actually read them.)

Since high schoolers have to read these things over the summer, then, I decided, I shall read them over the summer. But, because I’m a lot cooler than a lot of high schoolers and have had some training reading these kinds of things *She says snobbishly* then I’m going to read all of the high schools’ lists. There are three lists from three different high schools that I have a hold of. Caveats: I don’t have to read the books I’ve already read–namely Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm. Yep, I’ve only read two on the present lists.

So, here’s my reading project for the summer (I give myself until the end of August):

1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne

2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

3. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

4. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

5. My Antonia by Willa Cather

6. Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

7. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

8. 1984 by George Orwell

9. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

10. The Kite Runner and

11. The Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I’m already into The Scarlet Letter (and thinking ‘What did I get myself into?’) and will report back from the field of Literature occasionally.

**Just a funny little aside: the favorite quote when I posted this was “Well-read people are less likely to be criminals”–Lemony Snicket

More toys, I’m getting spoiled; or the Wand Chooses the Wizard

My birthday present from Shane arrived a couple days ago. It’s a set of really great pens. Three fountain pens, three roller ball, and three ball point. It’s like the evolution of pens all in one box!

I tried out all of them, of course, with a little help from Owen and Bronwen. They all work wonderfully but I couldn’t help but start to pick favorites. And it reminded me of the scene in Harry Potter–which is all now fresh in mind since I finished reading them to prep for the new movie–where Ollivander describes how wands choose the wizard and, while you can use another wand, it won’t work as well for you as yours.

So here’s my wand/pen:
Fountain, five inches, silver, flowy.

What’s your wand/pen?

Speaking of tools…

I’m writing this blog on my brand spanking new mini computer. It’s got a built in web-cam, microphone, and is faster than my normal laptop…but it has definitely been designed for hobbit use. Takes some getting used to, I guess. But the battery life kicks all kinds of tushy.

And did I mention that it’s pink?

Are we only as good as our tools?

Top Chef: Masters will be premiering tonight. Needless to say, I am thrilled. Real chefs with real restaurants who are well-off enough to play for charities.

But something struck me as very interesting–initially I thought, whoa, this’ll be tough because these guys really know their game. They’ve gone through the real-life ringer already. They must be awesome. What challenges could possibly, well, challenge them?

In the past Top Chef has had chefs make amuse bouches via vending machine, forced them to cater street parties, twisted their chefly arms into creating a unique ice cream flavor, given them budgets of $10 to feed a family of four. Not easy. The tasks force the chefs to get creative and use all techniques available to them. (Still not as hard as a round with an Iron Chef, I’m pretty sure, but definitely taxing.)

Then, in the preview/teaser I hear one chef say that he doesn’t shop for ingredients in a grocery store. That brought me up short–then I realized they have all their ingredients shipped in straight from the farms, lifted right up out of the ocean, or butchered a block away. These ingredient are brought in by purveyors…meaning the chefs don’t head into a grocery store and sift through the offal to get the gold. So even something as simple as sending these professional chefs out into a grocery store with a time limit is really something that makes their life difficult.

All this made me think about writing.

What if we did not have the happy computer tool that everyone has? What if we had to make our own pens, develop our own ink, etc. etc. etc. With the invention and popularization of the technology I’m using even as I type this out, everyone thinks they’re a writer. More and more and more people are bombarding agents with manuscripts hastily typed out and sped along. But typing isn’t writing. Not all of the people click-clacking away would think about writing if they had to go pluck the bird that would give them the quill (or hunt around outside for an appropriate tool). If writing were an inconvenience, would we still do it?

Imagination is needed to write, like cooking. A certain skill level is needed to produce something worth reading or eating. Technique is given to utilize the necessary tools of the trade (grammar and language for the writer, ingredients for the chef–without those basic things there’s nothing). But if you don’t have a chef’s knife or a computer, are you doomed to never produce something worth tasting or something worth reading?

Sure, you can pummel vegetables to death, but carrot mush just isn’t as tasty when compared to neat slices of carrot. I’m sure you could write a dissertation without spell check or a backspace button…but who will want to decipher the crap you’re putting out?

Is the easiest way to separate the wheat from the chafe to simply take away the tools and see who can come up with something brilliant? In Quills the Marquis de Sade is depicted as writing with his own blood (and fecal matter) because he can’t stop the writing that needs to come out (or perversions…whatever you want to take from that…).

I know what you’re thinking: Shakespeare didn’t have a typewriter. But he’s Shakespeare. That’s my point. I bet Shakespeare would have written in blood. (Oooo, maybe he did–“Out damned spot!”)

What tools do you, as a writer, absolutely need in order to write? Blood and a needle? Pencil? Paper? Spray paint and a wall? Fresh clean snow and the call of nature? The computer?

Little Black Book: June Goals

My goal this month, since I have nothing due to any particular group, is to do writing exercises. And for this purpose, I have purchased a little black book of 192 blissfully blank pages that I plan to fill with All New Writing by the end of the month. This notebook, like I said, is smaller than your average bear, so it shouldn’t be an issue with filling.

Other than that:
Prep next two submissions for CWC so that I can focus on the Llorona novel.
Read a lot. (Including the last two Harry Potter books so that I’m fresh for the new movie!)