Seven Reasons to Read in 2013

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This new year, resolve to let all the action happen inside your mind, the most sophisticated virtual screen to be devised!

This is what reading does for you:  

  1. Finances unlimited journeys to every corner of the earth.  But be more than an armchair traveler.  Delve into the history of the world, and crack the code to the variety of cultures, religions, and political systems out there.
  2. Offers instant escape from your individual reality. Anais Nin says, “When one is truly rich, inwardly, ordinary life becomes a form of torture.” A book hands you an alternative life, easing you out of boredom and malaise.  
  3. Provides incomparable aesthetic pleasure derived from sharply chiseled sentences, startling imagery and stunning words.  Check out this image: “straight-trunked trees spread out canopies as dense and green as broccoli.”  And this one: “a crisp-cut suit defined him against the landscape, the way a line of India ink edged a drawing.”  Both from Erik Larson’s  Thunderstruck.
  4. Introduces you to a debate partner with whom to explore controversial issues.  Although it is silent, the conversation allows you to compare notes with a writer whose intellect you respect. A few of my debate buddies include Edward Said, Katha Pollitt, Louis Menand and Laura Kipnis.  
  5. Connects you emotionally with writers who mirror your innermost thoughts, anxieties, desires, and goals, affording you the knowledge that you are not alone: many others out there share your passions.
  6. Teaches you to appreciate the elements of good writing:                                           
    (a) A riveting plot containing reversals and recognitions, as set forth in Aristotle’s Poetic’s
    (b) An innovative narrative structure whose parts form an impacting whole,
    (c) Fluidity and depth of thought,                                                                                     (d) Language that sings, runs, yells,  soothes, soothes,  
    (e)  Fictional characters — or, in the case of nonfiction, real people — whose traits, actions and thoughts open up a world of possibilities,                                                 
    (f)  A setting that allows you to live in it.
    7.  Unlocks the secrets of survival for us, fragile humans buffeted by random blows from a haphazard world.

Here are seven books I’ve read recently that do all of the above:

The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance edited by Alain Locke

This is an incredible compilation of fiction, poetry, drama and essays by African-American writers –including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer and Countee Cullen — who lived during the exciting 1920s artistic revival called The Harlem Renaissance.

Paper Fish by Tina De Rosa

Writing in an almost mystical poetic prose, De Rosa tells the story of an Italian-American girl who struggles to survive in the slums of ethnic Chicago. The tale focuses on immigrants who grapple with harsh reality in 1950s America, but also hold on to cultural traditions.

One Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

If you want to experience an eye opener about Afghan culture, read this tale about two oppressed women who are almost murdered by their enraged husband.  Hosseini offers us an unforgettable portrait of what it’s like to be female in the sad Taliban culture of ignorance.

My Thirty Years’ War by Margaret Anderson

A passionate treatise on the splendors of the artistic sensibility, this memoir recounts Anderson’s  adventures as the publisher of innovative The Little Review in the early 1900s. She emerges as an ambitious, high-spirited woman and a role model for those aspiring to the literary lifestyle. 

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Early twentieth century London is the setting for this portrait of the world’s scientists as they compete to develop wireless telegraphy.  Larson intertwines the stories of the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi and the homeopathic doctor, Hawley Harvey Crippen, charged with the North London Cellar Murder, for a compelling look at the Edwardian period.  

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter chronicles the lives of army infantry soldiers as they carry out Bush’s new strategy for war in Iraq during 2007. Finkel lived with the battalion in Baghdad and not only describes the horrific details of battle, but also reveals the private drama of these heroic young men.  The book will transform you forever into a pacifist. 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Each Christmas this simple narrative reminds me that turning your life around is within reach. Scrooge, bitter and angry, transcends the pain of the past and transforms himself . He discovers that generosity of spirit is better than resentment.  

What books have you read lately?  How have they impacted you?

My story “Beyond” Is Now on Kindle!

My story “Beyond” is now in the Kindle Store! Read it at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006T0Z122

It is my first– and humble– attempt at E-publishing fiction that has, hopefully, a semblance of plot.

Don’t have a Kindle? Click link above and download FREE KindleForPC! OR a FREE KindleForMac, Ipad, Iphone, Blackberry and Android phone. Once installed, register with an Amazon account, and search for my name!

Here’s the cover!

Loosely based on the life of an ex-boyfriend’s father, “Beyond” tells the story of the struggle for  economic survival and artisitc fulfillment by the first Cubans to leave the island in the wake of the 1959 revolution.

My tale shows Maximo, a struggling toy store owner and aspiring writer, tormented by desire for   his mistress and a longing to live the creative life.  On the evening of a small business exposition that celebrates the economic success of Cuban exiles, he fabricates a plan to escape from his humdrum life, pregnant wife and three sons. An unexpected catastrophe, however, forces him to place his plans on hold.

As I battled to construct a plot for my story, I realized how much of an impact the seemingly  plot-less early modernist writers had made on my writing style. Virginia Woolf, a member of the literary group that emerged on the heels of plot-driven Victorians such as Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, had the most influence.

When I encountered Woolf’s work in an undergraduate literature class, I was mesmerized by the stream of consciousness technique she uses in the novel Mrs. Dalloway. James Joyce, another early modernist, employs the same technique in his epic Ulysses. These authors forged a different way of telling a story: they explored emotional and psychological terrains from the inside of a character.

When writing “Beyond,” I decidedly drifted — and stayed – into stream of consciousness mode to tell the story of Maximo. But something wasn’t working: Maximo thought too much.

In Lynne Barrett’s fiction workshop, I encountered the joys—and rigors—of constructing plot.  In her class, I struggled with making my characters do something other than think.

Lynne, a much revered creative writing teacher at Florida International University and author of the story collection Magpies, insisted that plot was the most important literary element.

“Plot drives a story.  Plot means that characters cause things to happen,” she said. “Then there is an effect from those actions.”

James Hall, another FIU writing teacher, agreed with Lynne.

“Read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee,” he said. “You will see that the main character causes all the action.”

Lynn blamed my inability to construct plot on the English lit major’s obsessive focus on language, theme, imagery, symbolism and setting. Nobody teaches plot, she said. She picked up a copy of The Poetics of Aristotle and handed it to me.

“Every drama has a spectacle, character, plot, language, melody and thought,” Aristotle writes, “but the most important is the organization of events, the plot….For tragedy is not an imitation of men but of actions and of life. It is in action that happiness and unhappiness are found, and the end we aim at is a kind of activity, not a quality.”

Finally, a feeble beam of light pierced the fog.

“I get it,” I said to Lynne. “Plot is the trunk and the branches of a story. Language, theme, imagery, and setting are the leaves.”

Lynne’s eyes widened. Who knew what she was thinking? But the image helped me with my plot creation.

“A principal means by which tragedy exerts its fascination,” Aristotle continues, “are parts of the plot, that is to say reversals and recognitions.”

I sped over to the section entitled “Parts of the Plot: Reversal, Recognition, Suffering” and read: “Reversal is a change from one state of affairs to its exact opposite…..Recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge, leading either to friendship or to hostility…..A third element is Suffering (pathos)… an action of a destructive or painful description.”

I admit that the protagonist in “Beyond” does a lot of thinking. He goes on a stroll ala Mrs. Dalloway and Stephen Daedalus, and, while he walks, he plots.

Does it work? I don’t know. Few writers are ever satisfied with their writing. Henry James never stopped revising, even after publication.

Without a doubt, plot is a challenging piece of the fiction writing puzzle.

Beyond” is part of a story collection I am writing entitled Through the Branches of the Guava Tree, showcasing the lives of Cuban exiles.