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My reading goal last year was ridiculous, I admit. I wanted to read 50 books in the year 2016 in a burst of driven enthusiasm. I ended up reading 45. I want to be clear that this was only accomplished by choosing slimmer books with smaller page counts and I’ve gone in the complete opposite direction for this year’s goal, choosing a mere 10 books, in order to allow myself to read longer books at a slower pace.

There were many noteworthy books that I read in this challenge and I would like to share them and hopefully inspire a few people to pick up a title or two. I purchase the majority of my books on Amazon, seeking out used copies that cost between $1.00-7.00, meaning that with delivery the books tended to cost me between $5.00-15.00. It was very workable and I hope you can also locate these books for similarly cheap prices.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson 

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer and founder and executive director of the Eqjustmercyual Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization that provides legal representation to individuals who have been wrongly convicted of crimes, those who cannot afford representation, and those who have been denied a fair trial. He is especially focused on individuals who face the death penalty and young people with long, harsh sentences. In this book, he talks about his experiences working in the criminal justice system as a lawyer who takes these kinds of cases. Even more specifically, he looks at racial bias in the justice system and how it disproportionately harms the poor. The humane and empathetic look at criminals who suffer enormously in our current system makes this is a necessary read. Also, his overarching message is very important for those worrying about the upcoming four years: he acknowledges how defeated he has felt, working on a never-ending mountain of tough cases that appear hopeless, but states that rather than give up, he has found it essential to maintain hope — how useful hope is, that it must be nurtured, and that great good can be done if one can hold onto it.

Chronicles of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquezchronicles

This novel has the rich and vivid language found in Marquez’s other novels (other than his journalistic News of a Kidnapping) coupled with a narrative that is essentially a mystery story: how did a young man’s murder unfold? Or, more importantly, if everyone knew the murder was going to take place, why did no one stop it from happening? The narrative is fun, looking at the events of that day from numerous perspectives, an atmosphere of absurdity and whimsy surrounding the entire affair. Your mileage may vary, but this has become one of my favorite Marquez novels, and I’ve nearly read them all at this point. It’s also a rather quick read.

Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids by Nicholson Baker

This book was not largely well-received. This is reflected in its Goodsubstitutereads rating. I can understand where this comes from: to start, teachers are an ornery group, often talked over by people who don’t know anything about education, often pressed underneath the system’s feet. Also, this book has an older white man who is a writer and not a teacher documenting his every day while substitute teaching for a month in a school district. There’s a lot to disagree with in this set-up. However, speaking as someone who was a classroom teacher and has stepped back into a substitute teacher role after moving to a different state, his observations are often relevant and worth reading. Many times, they were not dissimilar to things I have thought. Although he is largely ignorant of the dynamics within education, I enjoyed reading this book and I think his perspective as an outsider is not without value. You may want to couple this book with a Jonathan Kozol book, however, or at least some book written by an actual educator.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemiquantumthief

This science-fiction novel is the first of three and I admit that I’ve only read this first part and have yet to make time for the other two. However, even without continuing with the storyline in the next installments, the society-building in Rajaniemi’s novel is fascinating. The plot might seem a little cheesy at first, with a Puss-in-Boots style thief that naturally outsmarts nearly everyone around him, but Rajaniemi makes it work well and the society he envisions on Mars, in the Moving City of Oubliette, is an amazing concoction of futuristic technology, complex government control, subcommunities and their function, and privacy and social engineering — it’s really unique. If you’re a fan of world building and science fiction, this is worth checking out.

The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanhhanh

Hanh is a Zen Master and this book is a quick and easy read thanks to his succinct and brief writing style. Hanh has many books on zen and compassion and this one focuses specifically on how to listen with compassion in order to communicate effectively. His message is simple and repetitive, but I found the simplicity of the message extremely applicable to my every day interactions with other people. He talks of writing, speaking and listening as a form of consumption, and as consuming unhealthy food inevitably harms us, consuming toxic speech also harms us. He presents compassion as a useful tool. He gives examples of how practicing compassionate speech (and compassionate listening) can work in different kinds of environments. I found myself re-reading certain useful passages months after completing it.

The Plague by Albert Camusplague

I picked up this book in the oppressive heat of last summer. My god, the environment in which I read this book made its contents weigh even more heavily upon my imagination. This book takes place in the African coastal city of Oran, which Camus also wrote about in his essay The Minotaur, during a period of plague that sweeps through the urban center. The story follows several characters, one a doctor, as they pass through the rise and fall of the plague, quarantined from their loved ones, experiencing profound suffering, ennui, entrapment, compassion, death and self-deceit. Camus tends to explore the same themes of death and ultimate meaning and absurdism in all his work, so those themes are present here as well.

 

You demanded it (well, someone demanded it), I have provided. In this session of Bec Interviews Twitter Users You May or May Not Have Heard Of, I have interviewed the illustrious Uel Aramchek, or @ThePatanoiac. People use Twitter for many different things: butt jokes, instigation, self-expression, socialization, butt jokes—and then there are the writers. A microblog with a 140 character limit is an interesting place to play with words, and also essentially an effective advertisement for outside writing. The interactivity is also an important component. Hey, you have a loquacious appetite for space squid romance? I have a loquacious appetite for space squid romance, too. This is how magic happens, folks. ThePatanoiac makes the magic happen.

One of the things I have found very meaningful and impactive is that when you extend your creative side to an internet community, discover a decent group of people who understand that personal desire to create something, you then have the opportunity for personal growth. It’s important to look at the creative efforts of another human being and talk about them. When people make a narrative, that takes time and effort and skill, and great things can happen when a community backs that up. My respect for this gives me a lot of respect for ThePatanoiac. He creates, and just in simply doing that he inspires others to create. So when you check out his timeline (mhmgh, first paragraph, click), you’re most likely making yourself just a smidgen of a better person through this experience.

Hey, maybe I can be that sort of influence too? Haha? One day? Maybe. Anyway, continuing on.

The main hub for his writing (which will be linked again at the bottom of the post DEAL WITH IT) is his website North of Reality, and there is also a Tumblr featuring his writing that you can follow. His twitter also contains collections of his writing, such as June’s collection.

KmvFSNA2

Pictured: Writing Prompt


Why do you have an account on Twitter dot com?

This account actually started out as a graveyard for my past writing. After years of producing and abandoning rough drafts, I had accumulated multiple novels and several half finished ones which were rather weak. During a period of near-zero writing productivity after graduating from university, @MitchDokken convinced me that I should do something interesting on Twitter and showed me some of the weirdness that was already present. From there, I started digging through my heap of drafts, finding fragments that I felt were decent, and posting them out of context. After a few weeks I ran out of content, and this project transitioned into the original works that I post today. Back then, I never would have expected that it would become what it has.

Two of my other interviewees have stated that you are one of their favorite accounts on Twitter. What do you have to say about this?

These kind of statements always blow my mind, honestly. I appreciate those two immensely, both as writers and people.

Now, what did you do to bewitch them? I want details, here. I need to do some bewitching.

I made a bargain with the ghosts of Geocities websites that perished long ago. It’s easy to do it at home these days. You can get a bluetooth-enabled ouija board at just about any abandoned Radio Shack.

When did you start writing, and why did you start?

Back in Elementary school, I started writing a “book.” It was about ten pages of handwriting about giant plants taking over a cruise ship. There were these insidious vines with lamprey teeth, and the adult ones had venus flytrap faces. This is sort of disjoint from the rest of the story, but I find it somewhat amusing.

It’s probably more accurate to say I started in the summer after seventh grade. I joined in on this forum thread where people were telling segments of a science fiction story and passing it around, and there was this Dutch fellow who wrote these massive, heartfelt chunks of space opera while the rest of us kids flailed around coming up with alternate names for lightsabers. I think he was much older than the rest of the site’s members, and I’m not really sure why he was hanging around. Either way, I was extremely jealous of his skill, and started copying his style of grammar in my pieces.

When school started again, our English teacher asked us to turn in one piece of creative writing a quarter. I was full of ambition and a mysterious force known as “teen energy,” and had spontaneously decided that I was capable of writing a novel. So each quarter, I wrote an entire chapter (in retrospect, they were quite tiny) about this dystopian city powered by the tears of its citizens who were forced to worship sunflowers. It wasn’t good, but by that point, I had thoroughly convinced myself that I could do be a writer, and every year after that I started writing a different novel (although I didn’t actually finish one until I was 19).

Do you have any writing advice for the teeming masses?

In my experience, it takes thousands upon thousands of words of practice to be ready to write for an audience. The first fiction that you write is probably not going to be publishable in quality, and that’s okay. If you have a grand vision of your perfect first novel, you will likely sit for months with your wheels spinning trying to defeat a blank page, and most publishers will just ask you to rewrite it anyway once you’re done. Just keep cranking out words until you look back on what you’re doing and are comfortable with your skill. You will keep getting better, and will eventually amass more ideas than you can ever publish.

Drop a truth bomb, right here, right now.

Plot holes actually improve stories.

What is your favorite movie?

There are perhaps many more deserving of mention, but I just have to go with Southland Tales. There’s nothing else quite like it.

What is a social issue that you are passionate about?

Ending credit card rewards programs, and challenging the credit industry in general. Their wicked machine reinforces every last institutionalized problem that we have, yet their contribution to inequality is almost entirely unrecognized.

Who is your favorite account on Twitter dot com?

My darling @esthermaschine. She and I have been on an amazing journey of love for the past two years, and her mind never ceases to amaze me.

What is your spirit animal, and why?

Probably the giant octopus. I love its eldritch aesthetic, and how it rivals the smartest species of mammals in intelligence despite having followed a completely separate path of evolution. That deviation resonates with me.

What is the scariest monster of all time?

When I was small, I was terrified of the creatures I would see by staring into the grooves in the wood on closet doors. I came to believe they were the outlines of the spirits that lived in our house, shadows burned into the spaces they occupied. Those ambiguous forms with their manifold eyes and craggled limbs are the foundation of every monster that I’ve imagined since, so I have to hand them that award. An interesting addendum to this is that a friend of mine who comes from a line of witches in the Philippines explained to me that in her family, there is a belief that the wood in houses eventually becomes a malevolent presence, as it remembers being alive. That concept has resonated with me ever since in a sinister way, reframing and complexifying the monsters of my childhood, as well as giving them a means to follow me elsewhere in life.

What is your favorite book?

VALIS, by Philip K Dick. As soon as you read it, your life gets immediately weirder.

What is a life lesson you feel you have learned thus far?

The universe is irrational, and under no obligation to obey any declaration that we make about its nature.

When you burst through your front door in the morning, ready to get to work, what theme song is playing while you walk purposefully into your day?

“The Heart’s A Lonely Hunter,” with Thievery Corporation and David Byrne.

What is love?

I’ve always been fond of Buckminster Fuller’s definition: “metaphysical gravity.”

If you were a baked good, what baked good would you be?

A doomsday cake- which is really just the hole in space-time left behind by eating a birthday cake too quickly.

If you were to convert my life into a science fiction story, what would Bec’s story be about?

As your old namesake implies, you are a cosmic beekeeper, a job that entails producing the honey that holds quantum particles together and thus allows matter to exist. Colony collapse disorder strikes on a galactic scale, and the story follows your efforts to maintain a universe that is slowly coming unglued.

What is a project that you are currently working on, that you would like to share with others?
As of late, I’ve been producing regular bursts of fictional content over on http://northofreality.com, which is intended to be a hub for my writing. I post something new close to every day, and am working on determining a consistent schedule. I’ve got some other writing projects in the works, including the long-term Hexward which I’ve discussed in the past, but these are not on a clear timeline.

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