Summer Books and Places to Read Them

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Even book-worms go on summer vacation…because let’s face it, armchair traveling is amazing, but sometimes you want to actually “be” somewhere. Not to mention, some of the best trips combine armchair traveling with real-life literary destinations. Short on funds or time-off? A good read can make even stay-cations and shorter trips more exciting.

Besides,who says vacations have to be on an isolated beach somewhere, or that summer reading has to be “light?” Like school, Time off is mostly what you make of it, and like any type of education is vastly improved by books. Fortunately, read-and-wander combinations don’t come in short supply–the possibilities are virtually endless. Here are some of my favorites for this summer vacation.

Follow in the footsteps of Tom, Huck and Twain in Missouri

Most people are familiar with Tom Sawyer and his best-buddy Huckleberry Fin–after all, they’re American “classics” not to mention required reading for most students at some point. Not nearly as many readers have the remotest clue about Missouri (unless like yours truly, they’ve lived there), and fewer still would choose it as a “literary” vacation destination, but they’d be silly to discount it.

In Hannibal, Missouri, readers can wander around Tom and Huckleberry’s stomping grounds–Twain based Sawyer’s fictional home town of St. Petersburg on the bustling Midwestern city where he grew up. Learn about the author’s life at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, hop the Mark Twain Riverboat for a turn around the Mississippi,  or explore the Mark Twain Cave—strikingly similar to the one where Tom and Becky got lost. Less than an hour away, visit Twain’s birthplace, a tiny two-room cabin in Florida, Missouri where you can gawk at first editions and a handwritten manuscript of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Outdoorsy readers can set up camp near Hannibal at Mark Twain National Park, and hike, swim, fish and canoe to their heart’s content before curling up in their sleeping bags to spend the evening with Tom and Huck.

Wander in the Shadow of the Wind in Barcelona

Set in post-civil war Barcelona, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind is almost as famous as the city where it takes place. This story within a story about the son of a book-shop-owner, a hidden treasure trove of rare books, a compelling novel and its mysterious author is an ideal read for bibliophiles.

If it’s not  a truth universally acknowledged  that everybody in Barcelona loves Carlos Ruiz Zafón yet, it should be. Myself, I may have been slow to convert, but there it is. Even long-time and somewhat jaded residents (me included) will confess that the city becomes more magical while reading the book. Plaça Catalunya, Barceloneta Beach, the mountain of Montjuíc, these places exist on the page and in real life, so why not the Cemetery of Forgotten books, too?

Like Zafón’s characters, you too can have a café con leche at the famous modernista restaurant, Els Quatre Gats, people watch on La Rambla, get lost on the narrow cobblestone streets of the Gothic Quarter and stroll along the wide avenues of Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhood. Readers can download a brief guide and map of locations mentioned in the book at the author’s official website for the U.K.: The Shadow of the Wind-Walk around Barcelona

See the Magic of Greece first-hand with Mary Stewart

Greece has been a literary destination since long before the invention of air travel. The Iliad, the OdysseyMedea, great adventures and even greater tragedies have been set in Greece for centuries. But despite a nearly lifelong fascination with Greek mythology, it was my grandmother’s worn paperback of This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart that first made me curious about modern Greece, specifically Corfu, where the novel is set. It wasn’t long before I snagged her copy of The Moonspinners from a dusty bookcase and started daydreaming about Crete.  My Brother Michael cinched the deal with descriptions of Athens and Delphi.

So when I finally got to Greece, it was only fitting that I dragged My Brother Michael –a cherished inheritance– along. Decades after Mary Stewart wrote about it and years after I first read about it, Athens was strikingly different and much the same. Delphi, Crete and Corfu would have to wait, but Greece didn’t disappoint. The ambience, the food, the people and the landscape were there, just like in Stewart’s books. Without venturing far from Athens, ruins and ancient temples abound, set against a backdrop of mountains, towering trees and ocean views. Beyond the Acropolis in Athens, there’s Poseidon’s temple at Cape Sounion, and Aphaea’s Temple on the Island of Aegina. Of course, visitors with more time to spend in Greece (I was there only briefly for work) can trail behind Stewart’s plucky female protagonists on a tour of all of the sites featured in her books about Greece, including the navel of the earth at Delphi.

Step beyond the bounds of the French Quarter and Get to know the Big Easy

New Orleans may just be my favorite American city.  It’s gritty and full of history, vibrantly alive, and strangely unsettling, or maybe that’s just the books talking. While I first fell in love with Anne Rice’s historical version of the city in Interview with a Vampire, I felt I really got to know it in James Lee Burke’s Dixie City Jam. There’s nothing quite like strolling through the French Quarter and wondering about the city’s dark underbelly, imagining veteran detective Dave Robicheaux swooping in to solve the crime and save the day.

That said, Burke’s books about Robicheaux more likely to keep you on your toes than spur you to explore corners of the Big Easy less-frequented by tourists. Even so, when you find yourself craving beignets with chicory coffee and milk, étoufée, or a shrimp po’boy after reading about what Burke’s cajun detective is eating, you’ll find good places to try these area specialties all around. Afterwards you can pull up a chair somewhere and stop to hear the music—apparently even the best detectives do.

Fall in love with India with Javier Moro

Of all of the places I’ve travelled to, in armchair and airplane, India left the strongest mark. While books I read as a child, like The Secret Garden and A Little Princess only hinted at its allure in a mysterious way, Javier Moro’s Passion India maintains that same mystery and sense of wonder while exploring the many faces of the subcontinent, not all of them appealing.

Although it has its fair share of beautiful beaches, India’s hardly a typical summer-fun-in-the-sun destination. Some sights will touch your soul with their beauty: women in dingy saris selling spices in large baskets by the side of a dirt road; white marble sufi shrines in the rain; figures draped in marigolds and precious gems in hindu temples; the Taj Mahal in all its glory shimmering in the sun.  Still others will break your heart: skinny five-year-olds, their eyes lined with kohl, begging in the street; an emaciated old man carried into a crowded temple for a blessing. Even so, it’s all worth seeing for yourself. Noisy, crowded, colorful, India is overwhelming, just as it was for Anita at the beginning of the 20th century. Everywhere you go, it seems all of your senses are engaged simultaneously. When evening falls, back at their accommodations, a steaming cup of masala chai in hand, readers can escape into this unusual tale, based on the true story of Anita Delgado, the middle-class Spanish woman that became the fifth wife of the Maharaja of Kapurthala.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Klearchos Kapoutsis.

Slow-Read Sunday, Mrs. Dalloway (Final Thoughts)

We’ve broken up our reading of Mrs. Dalloway into three parts: (1) questions about Mrs. Dalloway to p. 275 of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader; (2) questions about Mrs. Dalloway to p. 331 of the Mrs. Dalloway Reader; (3) to the end of the novel.

Today, a day late due to Memorial Day activities (the smoked brisket was a big hit), I’ll offer some final thoughts after my first reading of Mrs. Dalloway.

If you’d have asked me five years ago whether I’d ever read Virginia Woolf I would probably have answered in the negative. Not because I thought it was of less value than other books, but because I thought I might not like it. Could I have ever made a logical argument why I shouldn’t read it? No. One day, here, Joseph Dante submitted an article entitled The Gender Divide and Becoming More Aware of What We Read. What he said hit home. I wasn’t consciously trying to avoid women writers, but I was not exactly piling up female authors’ titles on my bookshelves either.

So far, with Slow-Read Sunday we’ve read Austen and Woolf and we’re about to take on Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It’s a start. So some of my closing thoughts are a thank you to Joseph for bringing this issue to my attention.

With so much to read and so little time, Mrs. Dalloway will probably get tucked away in the same kind of compartment that Clarissa tucks Peter and Sally in. It will be on my mind, but I doubt I will make the time to engage in much real conversation with it for a while. We’ll go our separate ways and live our separate lives and we will think of one another, but we will only rarely connect in the physical world. If that starts to sound like a bad thing, let me tell you why it’s not. It’s not a bad thing because the real impact this book will have is on my inner-self. I’ve read it closely enough that I’ll find myself referring to it, monthly, weekly, maybe even daily. Most times when I think of war veterans I’ll think, now, of Septimus Warren Smith. Most times when I think of suicide I’ll think of the conscious decision we all make every day to go on living. Most times when I hear a clock bell ring I’ll think about the idea of time. This is how books work on us long after we’ve set them aside.

I can relate to how Peter and Sally shaped Clarissa’s life because books shape our lives in similar ways. We make choices about who our favorites are and about how we’ll spend the majority of our time, but that doesn’t mean past relationships, with books or people, are impermanent. They influence and shape our lives, too.

Even if I never pick this book up again, I am changed because it passed through my life. People, ideas, stories, told from all walks of life, from all perspectives, enrich us. We become more layered, more complete human beings by seeking experiences outside the sphere of our ordinary experience.  Joseph’s right. We’ve got to do a better job of being conscious where we devote our attention and our time because we become the things we let into our lives.

Now, for June we have a date with The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. For our first chunk, let’s read to Chapter VII, The Key to the Garden or about p. 22 of  Dover Children’s Thrift Classics edition.

Wishing Not to Write

This article was written by Noelle Sterne.

At my usual Friday table in the mall Starbucks, writing supplies spread out and tall cardboard ambrosia cooling at my elbow, I look around. In the atrium café, people sit, sipped, stare at passersby, look back at me. A grandmother corrals her kidlets, two stylish females exchange gossip, a young couple prop bulging shopping bags against their knees and whisper over their whipped toppings. A man alone, munching on mixed nuts, reads a foreign newspaper, and a very senior woman rummages in her oversized handbag.

Sighing and Wishing

I sigh, glanced down at my notes, up again, and around the atrium. Pull out my purse notebook and quiet the rattling in my head by adding to the perennial errand list. Put the notebook away and sweep the area again. The foreign man left his newspaper on the nearby table, but I resist reaching for it. Almost get up to go drool over the vampy shoes in the shop window behind me but stop myself. I sigh again and eye my clipboard with something close to resentment. And let myself be drawn back to the customers and mall shoppers.

I just don’t want to write.

What if the Phoenicians hadn’t invented the alphabet? What if the Sumerians hadn’t whittled their cuneiform writing sticks, ancestors of our Bics and Parkers? What if Gutenberg had kept his wine press pressing grapes rather than spewing printed pages? What if my parents hadn’t subscribed to The Saturday Review and The New Yorker?

Then, ah then, I wouldn’t have to write. Just think. I could be free to “enjoy” life, the American unworking dream: visit the mall daily, eat out incessantly, read magazines and romance novels, watch every primetime TV show every night of the week. I could take long walks, snooze in the sun, chuckle at children playing in the park, even stop and talk to their mothers. I could take in the latest movies, indulge in long, giggly dinners with friends, or sign up for a course in Greek culture. I could go everywhere without a notebook.

And more. I wouldn’t have to take incessant notes that interrupted every activity, or wake at 3:00 am with brain dictating brilliant dialogue that I knew would vanish at first light if I didn’t get it down. During social occasions, I wouldn’t have to excuse myself frequently to run to the bathroom, others staring at me like my bladder had quit, to surreptitiously capture the worst cliché I’d heard in two years. Watching movies or TV, I wouldn’t have to reflexively trumpet every plot flaw and, to my husband’s perpetual annoyance, announce the final outcome before the second commercial.

I’d use my computer only to email crosscountry friends pictures of the sunsets from my balcony. Or check out new acquaintances on Facebook and see what they were twitting. On the way to boot up, I wouldn’t have to trip over the huge stack of embryonic writing projects whose births alone will take me 250 years.

Ah, I wouldn’t have to write.

Sitting at my mall table, frozen before my clipboard, I think of, and empathize with, the admission of a novelist in Jean Rosenbaum and Veryl Rosenbaum’s The Writer’s Survival Guide:

Occasionally I envy normal people. . . . They never have to disappear during a party. I lack the social graces to explain my actions as I rush away to capture a certain phrase on paper before it falls through my memory sieve.

His wife, he confided, “dreams out loud of a serene life married to an easygoing, regular guy, content to watch television without yelling at the announcer or blurting comical dialogue for the actors.”

Facing Up

But, maybe like you, I find I can’t just not write. I’m not talking about a block that locks your brain and fingers like a strait jacket. Or an illness or legitimate depression at losing someone dear, although writing about it can prove great catharsis and excellent work, as Joan Didion proved in The Year of Magical Thinking, her acclaimed book about surviving and coping with the sudden death of her husband of forty years.

I’m talking about stopping in the regular middle of life, with only the usual traumas to deal with—refrigerators too often emptying, laundry too often mounting, car too often failing, and unexpected astronomic bills too often shocking. At these times, have you ever almost dared yourself—and your life—not to write, rebelling like a tween at the insistent inner parent who shoots you that look decreeing you must write, if not daily at least regularly?

Once in a while, I’ve tried not writing. Sorry to say, it solves nothing. I’ve discovered and rediscovered, as that novelist said, I’m not one of those “normal” people who can be content with anything less than constant creativity, from attempted to actualized.

The Threat and the Promise

Facing my nature, despite fantasies of “normality,” probably comes from an admonition that has long haunted and spurred me. It’s Jesus’ words in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, reproduced by scholar Elaine Pagels in Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (p. 257, Verse 70):

If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not [bring forth] that within you, what you do not have within you [will] destroy you.

The lesson here is this: When we admit and accept who we really are, allow and discipline ourselves to write, the doing itself will “save” us. But when we deny and stifle our writing drive by convincing ourselves we shouldn’t have it, don’t need it, and don’t want it, and so deprive ourselves of even a little writing time, we suffer the unavoidable repercussions.

We feel guilty because we’re rejecting our gift, and we harm ourselves by slowly killing our creative drive. The drive, bottled-up, convolutes, grows ugly, and finds other outlets—we become depressed, get sick, overeat, overspend, oversleep, overTV, overWeb, and snap at everyone within mouthshot.

Most of us can probably tolerate a day to a week “off” from writing. We may even return refreshed. But I see, ruefully, that to turn our figurative backs and literal productions on writing won’t give us happiness, peace, or minimal contentment. And just as dire, our self-denial will probably sour other, more ordinary, pleasures.

Writing Our Music

The warning in Thomas isn’t the only one that reminds me of the crucial sacredness of surrendering to our gifts. In an NPR radio interview, the magnificent American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein made an unwittingly sad and cautionary statement the summer before he died. He said, “There’s so much music I still have to write.”

Later, I read inspirational teacher Wayne Dyer’s words in Dr. Wayne Dyer’s 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace about our “music.” Directed to all of us, the second secret, an often-quoted dictum, is this:

Don’t die with your music still in you.

Have you felt the shaking truth of this advice? It’s at the source of my petulant rejections of writing and finally, again, returning.

Reconciling

What’s the solution to wishing not to write? For me, it’s heeding such counsel, accepting our need to produce, and recognizing we’re not like “normal” people. Corollary to Dyer, my sane self centers again with George Bernard Shaw’s words in Man and Superman:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap . . . .

Yes, I want to be thoroughly written out by the end. The only way is to yield to the drive and desire and rejoice in it. Sure, go out occasionally with friends for lunch, or sit in a first-run movie or take a course. But come back, always come home to our calling.

Now, at my Friday table in the mall Starbucks, I turn from the outer scene and let my eyes go where they want to—my clipboard. No need for sighs, anger, or shopper-watching. I spread out my notes, take a sip of divine latté, and pick up my pen.

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Author, editor, ghostwriter, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces of fiction and  nonfiction in print and online venues. Her column in Coffeehouse for Writers is titled “Bloom Where You’re Writing.” With a  Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations.  Noelle’s book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books) uses examples from her practice,  writing, and other aspects of life to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. 

With Trust Your Life, she has been invited to participate in the Unity Books “Summer of Self-Discovery,” a reading series on  Goodreads with two other Unity Books authors of positive messages. Goodreads members and others are invited to join the  Unity Books book discussion group on Goodreads and take part in free author webcasts. For more information, see the Unity page unitybooks.org/summer (as of May 1, 2013) and the Unity Books Goodreads discussion group: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/100799-unity-books. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com.
Noelle was recently featured at Author Magazine. You can read her article here.

Slow-Read Sunday: Mrs. Dalloway (to End)

We’ve broken up our reading of Mrs. Dalloway into three parts: (1) questions about Mrs. Dalloway to p. 275 of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader; (2) questions about Mrs. Dalloway to p. 331 of the Mrs. Dalloway Reader; (3) our final discussion follows and carries us to the end of the novel.

Septimus is dead, Big Ben continues to strike with expected regularity, and Mrs. Dalloway must host her party to the satisfaction of her guests. There are more important questions to ask of the novel, though.

1. Is being bookish manly?

On p. 335 the text poses the question through the character of Peter Walsh: Is his bookish nature altogether manly? There’s some mention of this making him more attractive to the opposite sex, the fact that he is “not altogether manly.” Do you associate reading with one sex or the other?

2. Are the characters capable of honest self-analysis?

On p. 342 we see a glimpse that Peter Walsh is capable of being honest with himself, at times. He comes to a universal conclusion that he has gotten older and so can do what he likes to do, but in the next sentence recognizes that he does still care enough to attend a party he has no interest in attending, except to satisfy others. This kind of self-analysis is often difficult to engage in, though. Do the characters in the novel consistently engage in this kind of honest self analysis, or, do they sometimes deceive even themselves?

3. Stop and smell the roses.

There are several lines in the novel that could stand alone as poems. Some of my favorite lines of the novel are found on  p. 343, “The brain must wake now. The body must contract now…the soul must brave itself to endure.” That’s it, just pointing to some language. You have to do that sometimes with this novel, because it would be a shame to miss it.

4. What does it mean when we compartmentalize our friends?

On p. 358 we see Peter and Sally off on their own. Clarissa checks in on them and then leaves. At no point in the novel is it more clear than this, Peter and Sally are part of a different life than the one Clarissa now lives. They are, in many ways, more alive in her memory than they are in her real, present life. I think we’re all guilty of this kind of compartmentalizing. We know Peter’s done it because he chooses who to mention his Indian mistress to. We know Sally does it because her husband didn’t come to the party. Is there anything wrong with this kind of behavior? Is Clarissa living a dishonest life if she behaves one way with a certain set of friends and another way with a different set?

5. Septimus is at the party.

Septimus appears at the party, almost like a ghost. He is talked about, and his presence is felt, even if he is not physically present. His visit impacts Clarissa’s mood. Is this another attempt to show us how the internal world is every bit as real as the external world?

6. What is the book’s major idea?

I have two suggestions and they are lines directly from the novel: (1) p. 361, “Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.” (2) p. 369 “…for what can one know even of the people one lives with every day? Are we not all prisoners?” What do you think is the novel’s main idea? Is the main idea every explicitly stated in the novel?

7. The novel’s conclusion.

At the conclusion of the novel (p. 371) we see Clarissa has returned to Peter. Peter is filled with excitement, terror, ecstasy, he can’t even really define it himself. But, what does he verbalize to Clarissa? All he says is “It is Clarissa.” Of course, that answers the question of what has caused this rush of internal excitement, but it does not clue Clarissa in to what he is really thinking. The final scene of the novel drives home the idea that we’re not very good at communicating our internal state. Some of that is because we can’t even understand what’s going on ourselves, in the moment. Sometimes it takes time and hindsight and in the case of a writer it might take a whole novel’s worth of writing before we can understand what’s going on inside.

So far, Amarie is the only one to suggest a book for June. She’s recommended we lighten things up a bit and read The Secret Garden. Assuming I’ve linked to the right book, there appears to be a free Kindle version. I’m game. I’ll try to get a copy and figure out what we should read for the first week in June. I may have some additional thoughts on Mrs. Dalloway next week, but in the meantime get your copies ready for June. If you had a suggestion for June and didn’t get it in in time, I’ll open things up again for suggestions in July, so don’t despair.

Where Does An Author Get Story Ideas?

This article was written by C. Hope Clark.

A touring, speaking author learns what questions to expect from attendees in the room. The queries rarely run outside the norm and repeat from event to event. The most common question is one that an author loves, yet hates, to receive. “Where do you get your ideas?”

You see, authors adore being unique, so they often appear mysterious in their response. Nothing makes them giddier than presenting a story to a reader and catching him off balance, exciting him with a twist, engaging him with story that the reader cannot put down until he sees THE END, or the sun peaking over the horizon. They want to be remembered for introducing that reader to this particular story. But no story is created in a vacuum, purely from scratch, without influence. No writer is an island, unlike all other authors. No author is purely an original.

Without exception, author ideas come from a combination of three things: life experience, research, and other authors.

The first two are a given. Authors write some of that they know, their personal observations triggering characters, concepts, plot and setting. And what they don’t know for sure from personal observation, they research. But the third, to me, is what matters most.

Authors learn most from reading other authors.

No, not plagiarism. Heaven forbid, and your average to top-shelf author cringes at the implication. Not copy-cat writing either, since each author strives to find his own voice. Authors read other authors for two main reasons:

  • To see what works.

Seasoned, published writers have traveled long roads, reading hundreds of books along the way, to decipher what works for their style. Not only do they seek to define their genre, but also their voice. Call it brand, if you like. What makes Jodi Picoult readers leap at a new release? What excites Patricia Cornwell fans? What has Sue Grafton groupies anxiously awaiting the letter W in her alphabet murder mysteries? Authors read for pleasure, but their brains are also reading for success. When they catch themselves engrossed, forgetting to study what made a story so compelling, they know they need to backtrack, reread, and dig to identity the skeletal composition of such a tale.

  • To grow up.

Regardless the genre, writing has levels of sophistication. Even a children’s book can become classic because it reaches all ages, each word remarkably placed properly. Such a talent comes from years of writing, hundreds of thousands of words written and then thrown away, and reading quality writing that came before the one in the writer’s hand. When an author holds a great book, he knows that great writers are the reason. Not just the writer of the current read, but also the writers of the books that this writer of this book learned from. Just like children learn from their elders, authors learn from their predecessors. They might not pick up To Kill a Mockingbird and subsequently create an attorney fighting bigotry through the eyes of an inquisitive young daughter. However, they just might sense the need to write in first person, like the daughter. Or they could create a poor Southern town during trying times to pick at and challenge the inhabitants. Or they relate to the bigotry and design a plot with similar redeeming qualities.

A new author is the newest brick in the constant construction of the literary world. His story has built upon the backs of other stories, and the author’s talent rose from the underpinning provided by other authors. The talent comes from an osmotic relationship with little more than reading. Reading classics, reading bestsellers, reading avant-garde releases and obscure award winners. Reading bad writing. A current author’s ideas come from hundreds of years of stories, culminating in a book in the hands of a reader who simply walked into a store, made a purchase, went home and sat down with tea for an entertaining moment. And the best reads are so easily enjoyed that readers can’t even tell the huge amount of history and effort that brought them to fruition.

So where do authors get their ideas? From everyone who’s ever written a good story.

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C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series and a lover of a good plot bending read. Her latest release is Tidewater Murder, April 2013. www.chopeclark.com

Photo: Some rights reserved by qisur,

Slow-Read Sunday: Mrs. Dalloway (to p. 331 OF THE MRS. DALLOWAY READER)

Last week I asked some questions about Mrs. Dalloway to p. 275 of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader. This week we continue reading the Woolf novel.

In this section we see the troubles of Septimus and Mrs. Dalloway set by side in this study of the two characters. We alternate between consciousnesses to see what these characters are thinking. I can’t help but think that we’re also getting a glimpse into the mind of our author, Virginia Woolf. She must have poured herself into both Septimus and Clarissa in many ways. Look for examples as you read. Are there times when the novel has a line so true that you feel it must have been lived and felt? Who’s narrating when we get that line?

1. What stands in the way of Clarissa Dalloway’s happiness?

Clarissa has wealth, she wants for nothing,  she could pursue any interest, she has hours of leisure time, no one denies her right to choose how to spend her time. What is the one thing that stands in the way of her happiness? I’d argue it’s her “self.” But, does Clarissa get anywhere by having that pointed out to her? Does that kind of self-awareness, ironically, make it even harder for her to find happiness?

2. Since everyone is talking about Gatsby this week…

As a fun aside if you’ve also read The Great Gatsby it’s worth remembering that it was set in the summer of 1922. The novels cover the same periods of time, yet the settings are different. Compare the parties. Compare the love affairs. Compare the effects of the war. Compare the wealth. Compare the excess. Compare the narrative styles. Compare the settings. Compare the British novel to the American novel.

3. Does the use of metaphor and simile take away or add to the novel?

I think you could make an argument either way, either that the language helps convey the meaning Woolf intends, or that Woolf refused to edit the novel to focus on plot and instead edited the novel to focus on the language. Think about how Woolf uses this language to remind us that not all moments in time are the same. Some are sublime, like the moments when we read or write beautiful metaphor and simile. Some moments are mundane, like when we talk of luncheons and post-luncheon naps. Which do you prefer, or do you find they work to compliment one another? Does the mixture of sublime and realistic language mimic the way we experience the world?

4. One of the thing we’re always aware of is that we will die.

Time reminds us of death, others’ deaths remind us of death, the war reminds us of death, Septimus reminds us of death. Mrs. Dalloway must make the decision, daily, to go on living. In some ways, then, this book is a meditation on a unique aspect of humanity. We are unique in knowing that we will one day die and we contemplate it every day. Can you read Mrs. Dalloway as a meditation on what it means to know you will, one day, die? Will even Mrs. Dalloway’s party be invaded by death? Do you get the sense that Woolf is making a commentary on the dying days of innocent parties like the one Clarissa is putting together?

5. What is depression?

The word “depression” appears on p. 282 and the idea is one explored throughout the book. What did the word mean, though, in 1923-1925 when Woolf was working on Mrs. Dalloway? Is Woolf exploring the idea of depression in the novel? Freud had explored the subject in 1917 with his work on Melancholia. Was psychology changing around the time Clarissa was writing the novel? If so, do you see her ideas on the front edge leading us to understand depression, or, in the background, looking to identify the problem and draw attention to it?

On p. 276 the idea is expressed that our health is largely under our control. Therefore, it would seem that doctors generally viewed illness as some sort of failure. Is that fair to Septimus? Does that attitude make it even harder on the depressed individual?

What do you think Virginia Woolf would say about where we are, today, with depression treatments? Have we made progress? Are we still in need of authors that give voices to the silent depressed masses?

6. Proportion v. Conversion

On  p. 284 conversion is introduced as a sister to proportion. What are these two ideas? How are they different? How do they compete with one another? Why are they important to the novel?

7. One world is spoken and one world is thought and the two rarely meet.

On p. 302 we find evidence of the spoken world v. the unspoken world and the very large gap between the two. Clarissa thinks so many things about Peter and about Richard, but doesn’t share those thoughts with either. Our true thoughts are very rarely revealed to others. Is this one of the reasons we need literature? Without it we would never truly know human nature aside from our own? This idea of the spoken v. the unspoken contemplates the idea that the best literature serves as a guided meditation whereby we arrive at our own true thoughts. Through literature, like Mrs. Dalloway, we’re dared to face that unspoken world.

8. In what way are the parties “offerings?”

On p. 304  we explore the idea of parties as an offering. Are they a ritual offering like the ancients used to make to the gods (sacrifices)? Are they an offering to the people of you community (blessings and well wishes)? Who are they offered to (Gods, Men, Others)? Why would one feel the need to make such an offering?

9. Is Mrs. Dalloway the jealous type?

Explore what options are available to Elizabeth v. Clarissa. on p. 317.  Elizabeth is told that every profession is open to women of her generation. Is that true? Does Clarissa have some jealous resentment of people with all their options open? Why do you think that Mrs. Kilman and Clarissa Dalloway are at odds? Can we trust Mrs. Dalloway to give us an honest explanation?  Do you think there are aspects of this relationship that Mrs. Dalloway will not even admit to herself?

For next time we’ll read to p. 371 of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader, the conclusion of the novel. Also, if you’d like to suggest what book we read in June, I’m open to that. Just leave your thoughts in the comments.

Update/Bonus: If you suggest a book, and I end up picking it for June, I’ll buy you a copy or send you an amazon gift card of equal value if you already own it. Suggest something good.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Karen_O’D.

Literary Loony: Certifiable Moms from the Wonderful World of Books

This article was written by Chris Ciolli.

Most of us have our ups and downs with moms. We love-hate them, a typical reaction to anyone that is sometimes too close for comfort and armed with “I told you so’s.” While many moms keep a secret stash of psychotic to flash at severely misbehaving offspring, most are a far cry from the villainesses  that seem to spring fully formed from so many writers’ minds (something to be thankful for). What is it about great books that inspires writers to create such awful matriarchs? From Greek Classics to modern-day children’s books, crazy mom and her bosom buddy, bad mom, make their appearance in all kinds of writing, sometimes as that hard-to-vanquish cross species, evil, crazy mom.

Bad Moms

In literature as in life, bad moms may have some crazy around the edges, but it’s rarely enough to send them to prison or get them institutionalized. Two of my favorite examples of bad, and fairly batty mothers are Zinnia Wormwood and Mrs. Bennet. Both are hilarious products of celebrated British authors’ wry sense of humor and uncanny ability to make the ridiculous believable.

  • Zinnia Wormwood in Roald Dahl’s Matilda

Only Roald Dahl could make such a horrible mother so hilarious. Zinnia Wormwood, Matilda’s mom, can’t cook, doesn’t read, and is generally trashy and unpleasant, but worst of all, seems to have no interest whatsoever in nurturing her brilliant daughter, leaving her at home alone unsupervised, and letting her father destroy her library books and force her to watch television. So it’s only mildly surprising when Matilda flees the Wormwood family to live with her school teacher, Miss Honey. In fact, the nicest thing Matilda’s mom does for her in the whole book is signing her over to Miss Honey’s custody. Matilda begs the question. Is her mom crazy, stupid, or just a really bad mother? I’d vote for a combination of all three.

  • Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 

Foolish and seemingly without social graces, Mrs. Bennet pushes her daughters towards marriage with any man available with no regard to their health or future happiness. We see her disregard for her daughters when she sends Jane out in the rain on horseback to visit Bingley, and also when she tries to convince Elizabeth to marry the disgusting and obnoxious Mr. Collins. Not to mention how she allows, no, encourages Lydia to behave like a tramp, and Mary to torture others and embarrass herself demonstrating talents she doesn’t have. The miracle is that Jane Austen manages to make Mrs. Bennet amusing, as opposed to annoying.

Crazy Moms

Truly crazy moms don’t make stellar caretakers by any stretch of the imagination, but at least they often have a dramatic excuse (the tragic death of a loved one, a cheating spouse) for their flights into lunacy. Of course there’s more than one kind of crazy when it comes to moms. There’s falling-off-the-deep-end, suddenly crazy like Medea, and then there’s cold, calculating, sociopath crazy also known as evil-crazy mom (like Mama Elena from Like Water for Chocolate).

  • Medea in Euripides’ Medea

It’s hard to beat the Ancient Greeks when it comes to writing crazy moms. And when it comes to literary mothers who went off the deep end, no one falls further or harder than Medea. Even Jocasta, Oedipus’ mother-wife, is a only runner-up next to Medea. In this Greek tragedy based on the myth of Jason (of golden fleece fame) and Medea, the barbarian witch that saved him and bore his children, Euripides has Medea killing her own children (some sources say in earlier versions the children were killed by angry locals after Medea killed their king and princess). While her need for vengeance is understandable–after Medea saves Jason and follows him to a foreign land, he rewards her by demoting her to mistress status to marry a princess—killing her kids to punish her ex, as opposed to just offing the other woman and the man that broke her heart—that’s the ultimate in crazy mom.

  • Mama Elena in Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Mama Elena in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate is not going off the deep-end temporarily psychotic like Medea or Jocasta. She’s also not a relatively harmless batty mom, like Mrs. Bennet or Mrs. Wormwood. She’s a consistently evil insane that permeates almost every page of Esquivel’s masterpiece about this Bernarda Alba-esque family of a mother and three daughters. A family in which tradition dictates the youngest daughter must stay at home with the mother until her death, never marrying or moving on with her life. Staying at home with mom may not sound like the end of the world, but Mama Elena is physically and emotionally abusive. Far worse, Mama Elena encourages Pedro, the man Tita loves, to marry Tita’s older sister, and then puts Tita in charge of all the preparations for the wedding. Even as a ghost, Mama Elena will not leave Tita be, at one point setting Pedro on fire.

Real Moms

If nothing else, reflecting on the nightmare moms imagined by authors puts our relationships with maternal figures into perspective. Mom may have embarrassed you showing your significant other childhood photos, or screamed her head off when you came home past curfew, but chances are she’s got nothing on the literary matriarchs described above. So this mother’s day smile at the memories (good and bad), spend some time with her, and be thankful.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo:  Some rights reserved by lalawren.

Making World Book Night Last All Year Long

This article was written by Jessica McCann.

There are few things I enjoy more than reading a good book and sharing it with others. When I first learned about World Book Night, an annual event in which 25,000 volunteers hand out 500,000 free books across the United States, I was tickled that such an event existed. When I learned I could apply to become a book-giving volunteer, I was thrilled at the opportunity. And when the email arrived saying I had been selected to give out 20 special-edition copies of Mudbound, I was over the moon.

The idea behind World Book Night is to spread the love of reading, person to person, with light or non-readers. I had read accounts from previous volunteers who handed out their books to 20 random people at doctor’s office waiting rooms, coffee shop patios, addiction rehab centers or small town taverns. All great ideas. After much thought and deliberation, I decided to go a little different route. I wanted to give all 20 copies to a small charter high school for “at-risk” students in Phoenix.

Accelerated Learning Center (ALC) provides an alternative, individualized education option designed to help students earn their high school diplomas. Being “at risk” can mean any number of things for these teens. Whether they have a difficult home environment, were bullied at their traditional school, have made poor choices with drugs or alcohol, or have a learning disability or other personal challenge, most just want to finish high school and get on with their lives. The goal of the school is not only to help students earn their diplomas, but also to help them grow and feel successful, and to nurture a desire within each to reach his or her maximum potential.

These young people are probably among the least likely to pick up a novel and just read. Yet they are among those with the most to gain from doing so. In a blog post for Psychology Today, titled Want a Better Life? Read a Book, Eastern Kentucky University Professor Michael Austin asserts why reading — books specifically — is so important.

“Acquiring a deeper understanding about ourselves and the world we live in and applying it to life is conducive to building a better life and a better world,” he writes.

I couldn’t agree more. One of the best ways to do this is by reading a challenging book, one that requires a little effort, one that engages the mind and inspires conversation. Austin also refers to Mortimer Adler’s 1940s classic, How to Read a Book, and highlights this excerpt:

“A good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. … You become wiser. Not just more knowledgeable — books that provide nothing but information can produce that result. But wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life.”

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is such a book. The chapters rotate among first-person accounts from a variety of characters, telling the story of two American farming families (one black, one white) struggling to survive in a small Southern town just after World War II. Each character tells his or her version of the events — colored by his or her own experiences, desires and prejudices — without being preachy or stereotypical. It was published in 2008 and was awarded the Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction.

I approached the principal with the idea of 20 free books, a classroom set that could impact a new group of students year after year. But Mudbound is not your typical high school required reading.  This novel explores some mature topics, I warned the principal and gave him my personal copy to borrow. He said he would read it and let me know.

The book ended up making the rounds among the school’s teachers for about six weeks.

“They all really liked it,” the principal said when returning the book to me. He rubbed the now-crinkled cover sheepishly and apologized for the newly-worn spine. “I hope they weren’t too rough with it. Everyone kept talking about it and asking to read it next.”

Mission accomplished.

A few weeks later, I picked up my box of special-edition books from the local Barnes & Noble and printed off about a hundred World Book Night bookmarks emblazoned with the ALC logo. The drop-off at the school was low-key. With the academic year winding down, students may not even get a chance to read the book until next year. That’s OK with me. Knowing it has already initiated spirited conversation among ALC’s teachers is a great start. And I know their dedication and enthusiasm for teaching will help keep the spirit of World Book Night alive all year long.

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Jessica McCann, a professional freelance writer and novelist, lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona. Her nonfiction work has been published in Business Week, The Writer and Phoenix magazines, among others. All Different Kinds of Free (http://www.AllDifferentKindsOfFree.com) is her award-winning debut novel. She welcomes interaction with readers and writers at her website (http://www.jessicamccann.com) and on Twitter (@JMcCannWriter).

Photo:  Some rights reserved by Franklin Park Library.

Slow-Read Sunday: Mrs. Dalloway (to p. 275 of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader)

In this section we’ll cover the first chunk of Mrs. Dalloway from the beginning of the novel (p. 195 of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader) to p. 275 “At tea Rezia told him…”

There are a few things worth pointing out about the novel before getting into the contents specific:

1. Woolf uses analepses, or, flashbacks where earlier parts of the narrative are related to others that have already been narrated. Lookout for these as you read and consider how Woolf may be using these to explore the construct of “time.”

2. Woolf uses a narrative style called stream consciousness and employs “free indirect discourse” as the point of view. This makes the novel a bit different in terms of its narrative style. It can, at times, be difficult to distinguish between the narrator’s thoughts and a character’s thoughts or between dialogue and narration.

3. World War I began in July of 1914 and lasted until November 1918.  Mrs. Dalloway was first published in 1925, but it is set in 1923–post-World War I London. You can not read Mrs. Dalloway without feeling the backdrop of the first World War.

4.  I read Mrs. Dalloway as an existential novel. By that I mean that the novel focuses on the idea that individuals are responsible for giving life meaning. The idea behind the novel, being a day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway, is tool by which Woolf tries to show how very difficult that struggle can be. Existentialism became well-known after World War II, but World War I planted the existential seed of thought in many’s mind even if the term was not widely used until after World War II. I’m not qualified to compare the ideas of philosophers like Heidegger to Mrs. Dalloway, but I will try to point out certain passages which “feel existential.” When I do that I’ll try to point out what “feels existential” about those passages. For a more scientific approach to this idea you can read an article entitled,  Readers’ Engagement with Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway: From Knowing about Death to the Experience of Finitude.

5. As you read, think of the idea of the self and whether certain characters play one role with one set of people and another role with another set. Also, try to consider whether there are any characters that have a firm handle on understanding their own “self.” Are some better than others at understanding other people? Are some better than others at understanding their own “self?”

6. With all this talk about themes and ideas it’s easy to skip over the beautiful language Woolf uses, but if you catch yourself doing that, stop. It’s worth highlighting a few beautiful passages in the book and considering their poetic qualities.

Onto the text itself:

7. Is what someone says more or less important than what one thinks?

In the first two sentences of the novel we see the narrative style Woolf will use throughout the novel. The things characters say are not distinguished from the things characters think by ordinary punctuation. Is this writing style realistic? Is this writing style more like the way we experience the world? p. 195.

8. What purpose does Big Ben serve in the novel?

Big Ben, the giant London clock, is a fixture in the novel. It gives us our setting, London. It’s also a constant reminder of the passage of time. Does it do more, though, than just provide structure to the novel? Think about the concept of time. What is it? Is it artificial? Does it exist even without humans around to mark it?

9. The War.

The War is first mentioned on the second page of the novel (p. 196) and it’ll hang around throughout. What effect has the War had on the citizens of London? Has it effected the rich different than the poor? Has it changed the way the characters think about the world? Has it had an effect on the mental health of England? Consider each characters’ proximity to the war and its effect on their mental health.

10. “…it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.” p. 200.

Is there a difference between anxiety and existential angst? If so, what is the difference? Try to think about which the characters are experiencing.  Do you agree that it is “dangerous to live even one day?” Why do you feel this way? What are some of the things you do to cope with this feeling?

11. Do you do things in life just because of the effect those actions will have on other peoples’ impression of you?

Woolf explores the idea that we sometimes do things, not because they’re good things to do, or because those things give us enjoyment or happiness, but because of the effect those things will have on other people. We see this idea expressed on p. 201 near the end of the page where Mrs. Dalloway says she does things for other reasons than “themselves.” Do you find you behave similarly? Why?

12. What is a woman’s role in English society in 1923? What is a human’s role in society?

Mrs. Dalloway explores the idea that once you’re past child-bearing age you won’t be marrying, you won’t be having children, but you’re still very much alive. Mrs. Dalloway seems to struggle with what her role should be in this time of her life. p. 202. We could ask the same question of our own lives and should ask that question at every age. These are the kinds of questions that define our very existence, hence the existential nature of the novel.

13. Depression and mental illness.

Pay attention to the descriptions of mental illness and depression. There’s a great poetic description of depression at p. 204, top–“her illness, had power to make her feel scrapped, hurt in her spine; gave her physical pain….” Why is it valuable for Woolf to discuss mental illness openly? Are depression and mental illness talked about much in English society around this time? How is mental illness viewed in the novel? How are the doctors that treat mental illness portrayed?

14. Do we experience the world through the filter of the self?

Dr. Holmes gives Spetimus the advice that he should “take an interest in things outside himself.” p. 212. That advice is almost comical, because how can Septimus experience anything except through the filter of his self, the filter of his own experience, the filter of his current mental state?

15.  “Away and away the aeroplane shot….”

At p. 218 the paragraph begins with “Away and away the aeroplane shot….” This is one of those examples of poetic language in the novel. Read the paragraph a couple of times. Also, consider that World War I was the first war which involved the widespread use of airplanes for warfare. How is the plane viewed in England in 1923–five years after the war ended? On the next page we see a different set of people experiencing the plane. These shared experiences are important, but in what way? We can hardly know that others are experiencing the same things we experience, yet, if we take time to reflect we know it must be the case. Our experiences connect us even if we can’t feel the connectedness at the time of the experience. Part of what a novelist can do is show us how our lives are connected.

Think again about Big Ben. When it chimes, everyone experiences the chime at the same time. Is the clock, then, a kind of manufactured connectedness? Manufactured or not, is it still a valuable thing to recognize that connectedness?

16. Peter Walsh thinks women ” live much more in the past than we do.”

Is Peter Walsh being a bit sexist and hypocritical when he makes that statement? p. 243. After all, much of the novel  involves his remembering his time with Clarissa at Bourton. Does Clarissa truly know who Peter is? Do you think she would be more or less fond of him if she knew some of his inner thoughts? You could ask the same question about many of the other characters’ relationships.

17. “Nothing exists outside us except a state of mind, he thinks; a desire for solace, for relief, for something outside these miserable pigmies, these feeble, these ugly, these craven men and women.” p. 244-45.

The novel is exploring the idea of what it means to exist, isn’t it?

18. “…to be the figure of the mother whose sons have been killed in the battles of the world.” p. 246.

Remembering one war causes us to remember all wars. Memory is, therefore, a very powerful thing when it comes to finding a way to exist. Are we in complete control of our memory? Are we in complete control over the way our memories impact our present thoughts? How does the past effect the present? Is the past a valuable tool to give meaning to our present lives?

19. Wickham. p. 249.

Since we just finished reading Pride and Prejudice I have to mention the reference to Wickham. Is Woolf having a dialogue with Pride and Prejudice in this novel? What does it mean when Clarissa calls Dalloway, her future husband, Wickham?

20. “…twenty minutes of perfect happiness.” p. 250.

Consider the range of emotions the characters experience in just one day. It’s almost as though a whole life is lived in one day. It is a strange thing to say, then, that you’re “happy,” isn’t it? Because you could be happy in one moment and then not in another. What does it mean when you say you’re happy? That you’ve been continually happy for 24 hours? That you’re happy in the one moment when you’re asked the question?

21. Peter Walsh considers the effects of the War in the five years since its end. p. 258.

Even in the moment, in 1923, Walsh has the feeling that the five years since the War ended have been “very important.” He can sense that the way people think has changed. He can sense that the people have changed permanently during this time. This is a running theme in the novel. Woolf is very much concerned with the effect of the War on society.

22. …”she thought there were no Gods; no one was to blame; and so she evolved this atheist’s religion of doing good for the sake of goodness.” p. 264.

References to atheism appear often in the novel. Is Woolf exploring what the world will look like when there are no Gods? Is Woolf exploring the idea that there needs to be some idea, other than religion, that will give meaning to our lives? If so, is that existentialism?

For next time, let’s read to p. 331 (“One of the triumphs of civilisation…). As always, I’d love to hear anything you have to say about the novel. This is my first time reading Mrs. Dalloway so I could use your help to expand my own reading, if you have the time to share.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Karen_O’D.

Adventures in Self-Publishing

This article was written by Amarie Fox.

A few years ago, I decided that self-publishing a book of short stories would be a good idea. I don’t know who originally put the seedling of this idea in my head, but in time it began to grow. In fact, it grew until I had a whole garden inside of my skull and I could think of nothing else that I’d rather do than give my stories to the world.

After all, the demand was there: I had a rather large and devoted following who regularly read the short fiction that I posted on my blog and genuinely seemed excited when I brought up the possibility of a book. In my naïveté, I just couldn’t see what could possibly stop me.

‘Wait, what am I doing again?’

There is something so positive and appealing about the DIY approach to self-publishing that I loved and still do love. It is authentic; it isn’t reliant on anyone or anything. It is freeing to do something on your own without a bigger force standing in the way.

Looking back, though, I think – or no, I absolutely know – that the way I approached the project was all wrong. Yes, I was doing it on my own and that was certainly freeing, but it was also haphazard and chaotic. I had no direction, no one to point out what I needed to eliminate or what I needed to add. There is not a single short story collection in the world that doesn’t share some common theme or unifying idea. Often times, there is a thread that runs through each story.

Alice Munro – who is my favorite short story writer – would have shook her head at what I put together. I wouldn’t call it a book of short stories, as much as a book of strange odds and ends that you’d keep stuffed in a cardboard box at the back of your closet. Or no, if I am really honest, it was worse than that… it was more like a monster with a million mismatching arms and legs.

Let’s be honest, writers have editors for a reason. Sometimes you get so deep into a project you cannot see the other side. You are lost in a maze of your own creation and only an outsider can help drag you out. It would’ve been easier on me to have someone look over my work. To point out what needed to go and what needed to be added. Just because you’re putting together a collection of stories doesn’t mean you need to include every story you’ve ever written. I had everything from the good, the bad, the ugly, to the outright hideous. Yes, it was a very horrible monster. I will be the first to admit it. Some of those flabby parts needed to be cut off. If I had been more critical of my work at the time, I could have done just that. However, I was an overly attached mother. I couldn’t imagine leaving anything out.

Finding a Publisher

The Internet is full of self-publishing sites. It is definitely overwhelming to choose. For my project, I ended up going with Lulu, because a few of my poet friends had previously used it to make their chapbooks available to a wider audience.

Lulu was a great site to use, easy to navigate and work with, that frequently distributed discounts and promo codes to offer on my book, but I think they cater to a certain audience that wasn’t necessarily my audience. They do a lot of personal photo book printing – memory type albums and calendars – and I wouldn’t say that many people who ended up purchasing my book would’ve ever ordered from them. The community they had was just so different.

Since I published, I have seen a lot of different options become available, such as Amazon or Google. Both I think are perhaps better options. Depending on what you want to put out there.

Still, the point remains: your audience is the most important element. Unless you’re personally printing and producing your book, you have to make sure a reputable website is going to be taking care of your buyers. Are they going to ship worldwide? Are they going to have a hardcopy version to sell? A digital PDF or ePUB version? Do they have any sort of partnership with Apple or Amazon for wider distribution? Are you going to get a free copy of your own book to check out before you choose to tell the world? For what I was doing, Lulu met all of these requirements.

Would I do it again?

The question remains: would I choose to self-publish again? For now, the answer is heck no.

As much as I would like to go back in time and be the same naïve and optimistic young woman, I cannot. I think we have to (or should) learn from our past experiences. Instead of wasting time making another book, I’d rather invest the little spare time that I do have more wisely – by writing and sending out all completed work to literary journals and websites. Plus, I am sure in my future attempts to professionally publish a collection of stories or novel, it would look much nicer on my resume if some of my pieces have a ‘originally published’ or ‘published in’ next to the title.

Although, I wouldn’t do it again, that doesn’t mean I don’t encourage my fellow bloggers or writing friends to take the leap and self publish. I have a lot of favorite writers on the Internet and I understand and have the same desire to read their work in a tangible format. Plus, I believe in the giving back, especially after so many years of reading ‘for free.’

And I would be lying if I didn’t say it wasn’t at least a little rewarding – even if it is just rewarding for my poor little writer’s ego. I mean, somewhere across the country, across the world, on the other side of the hemisphere, someone has a copy of my book on their bookshelf alongside James Joyce and Margaret Atwood. How cool is that?

So, would you ever consider it? Or if you’d rather not get yourself involved in such a crazy project: have you ever supported a self-published writer by buying a self-published book?

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Amarie Fox is a writer and artist. Her recent fiction work has been published by Little Fiction, NIB, and Literary Orphans. More information at amariefoxart.wordpress.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by FeatheredTar.