Post by Rhiannon Wilson

It’s February, and that means everything will be a bit rose-tinged for the next few weeks. Regardless of your relationship status, Valentine’s Day can be stressful, with tension perforating your good mood until it resembles white lace—without the fun decorating aspect. Why not cozy up with candles, some form of chocolate, and dog-eared pages this holiday? Legends are not totally clear as to why Saint Valentine was martyred, but the cause of your enjoyment will be much easier to see with these lovely books to keep you company.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke

This 20th-century Austrian poet had a life filled with travels and discourses with very smart women. The result: a plethora of mystical poems, musing on love and nature that resonate even if you can’t read in the original German or French. Rilke uses classical Greek motifs and characters in some works, such as the Sonnets of Orpheus, allowing an easy connection point for anyone familiar with tragic romances. His lines are especially beautiful when spoken aloud….or taken completely out of context for a Valentine card that you could pretend to have written. Construction paper, anyone?

Courtesy of Goodreads

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

This is a fantastic, comprehensive book that everyone should read if they want to improve their relationships and emotional health. bell hooks is widely regarded as a feminist authority on recovery and dissecting the patriarchy. In this novel she describes how people have internalized prejudices, only to let them out in intimate relationships. Her range covers more than romance, however, extending to familial and platonic connections, making it a valuable read for everybody.

Courtesy of Goodreads

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

In the humble opinion of this English major, this Pulitzer-winner has everything a person could want in a novel: adventure, kisses, and super-detailed descriptions of punching Nazis. Chabon’s plot charts the origins of the American comic book industry through the tale of two cousins in 1940s New York. Some of it was even researched at the UCLA libraries! There is a heartbreaking romance, but love seeps through every line, from the commitment to art to friendship and loyalty. The best part? It’s nearly 700 pages!  If you’re stressed about Valentine’s Day plans, you’ll be occupied for at least a week.

Courtesy of Goodreads

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

This novel is pure romance, in the standard genre sense. Waters is known for lesbian literature in different time periods, and this Victorian take makes for a suspenseful read. A pickpocket is hired to swindle an heiress of her fortune, and the multiple character perspectives that the narrative uses creates a stunning picture of how strangely a conspiracy could unravel. If you want something fun to watch, you’re in luck! The BBC adapted the book for a mini-series in 2005, and Park Chan-wook directed another version in 2016; he sets the film in Japan-occupied Korea, and the plot twists are different enough from the original novel that both leave the reader happy.

Hopefully, these books will entertain you and your partner, or at least give you something fun to talk about with your crush.


(Post by Tina Lawson)

Source: Kenyon Review: September/October 2015

What I like about Kenyon Review most these days is their taste; many of the poems are tight, compressed, inventive, and unafraid of journeying into either strange subjects (“Nkisi Nkondi” by Jennifer Militello has a delightfully creepy note) or the more conventional ones (Dave Lucas’ “Narcissus Himself” and the ruminations on love in relation to the self). Amy Wright’s “Mēl” plays with the genre of the personal essay and infuses her non-fiction with something thematic: definitions of words that tie together a pattern within the work. From the definition of ‘meal’
to the ‘Milky Way,’ ‘meolc,’ ‘mēl,’ and ‘milk-and-water,’ weaving together the experience Wright’s perspective as she explains the context of a world many of us aren’t acquainted with. We live in a time when we need special education and an allocated day to educate young children where their food comes from, and Wright’s on point remarks on “the shift in human evolution that combined the cultivation of wild plants … the domestication of animals” highlight the receding knowledge and tolerance for independent, small agricultural practices in face of a worldwide increasing demand for cheaper food: meat, vegetables, grains.
“Mēl”’s focus on tracking the Agriculture Revolution of Then to the Now is informative in a fresh way, separated by dotted sections: tying together Biblical references of “milk and honey”, but it is easy to be unsettled by the facts and figures in the tension Wright builds; as the plentiful bounty is stressed over and over, one gets the sense that time is running out for the full platter of food that the current system has in place. From the United Nations Environmental Program:

  • Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
  • The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010).

Wright outlines alternatives to the high-energy, high-stakes current food sources (ex: small insects like crickets and grasshoppers in lieu of cattle/livestock), illustrating in her prose the absolute facts and following them with anecdotal scenes.
Her intent is to show her audience that “we have lost familiarity with the way our ancestors survived,” and to give examples on how we can change this course through choice. Now, more than ever, technology can aid in the world’s hunger, and by infusing ancient remedies and solutions with this technology, and Wright complicates this idea with her superb command of emotion that makes this nonfiction entry a delight to read.

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When I read a piece of literature, I am almost always conscious of whether it has been designated fiction or non-fiction. I have already added the first shade of dye to a glass of water whose color will come to symbolize my perception of the work.

I differentiate these modes of literary production in much the same way a dictionary would: fiction encompasses those narratives which come chiefly from the imagination, while non-fiction encompasses writing which adheres to fact. Yet I find the real difference lies in each genre’s function. To me fiction and non-fiction are associated with the inward and the outward, with respective urges toward reflection and discovery.

Despite this fundamental difference, the two are interlinked. Imagined stories have no choice but to come out of the real stories which surround us, and real stories have no choice but to be influenced by our imaginations.

What motivates some writers to choose one category over the other? I see writing fiction as a sort of meditation on reality. Without true fascination and engagement with the actual happenings that surround us, fiction might lose its purpose. For me the relationship between non-fiction and fiction has begun to evolve into something like that between waking and sleeping: they are dependent on one another, yet there is dominance of the former: my being seems now to lean more toward what is dynamic, what is yet to be unveiled, what is out there.

Though I have done very little writing, having only recently become interested in it as a vocation, it is beginning to reflect this perceived dominance. My interest in pure fiction is still very much alive, but more and more I am writing essayistic passages in which I explore issues I see coming up in my day-to-day life. This practice is now extending into a desire to research and write of other people’s lives, to write journalism. Perhaps one day I will settle into an idiosyncratic oeuvre of sorts, but for now I am in the lab, testing proclivities.


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