Tag Archives: Read

How to Read Poetry with a Little Help from Billy Collins

Ah poetry, that thing we all universally love, appreciate, and understand.

Well, some of us, anyway. For others, poetry is a torture device full of alliterations, assonance, allusions, and apostrophe that cause anger. This is because some of us read poetry to appreciate it, think about it, and to find pleasure in it, and others, well, as Billy Collins’ poem Introduction to Poetry shows, try to find meaning.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

But a poem isn’t about meaning. A poem’s answer is never going to be five. A poem isn’t something that can be solved – a poem is something to bring about contemplation and pleasure.

Books Save Lives – No, Seriously.

At work this week, the designers and I got into a philosophical discussion about, well, everything. It began with an article. A man in Texas was arrested for making a pot brownie and was now facing a possible life sentence.

“A pot brownie,” Coworker A said, laughing at the absurdity of it all. “Life in prison for a pot brownie. That’s ridiculous.”

“Why is that?” Coworker B said. “He broke the law.”

I left the room, escaping for a glass of water. Something I had grown up doing under two circumstances: 1. A discussion that had the potential to turn ugly. 2. Sex scenes. Because—awkward.

When I returned to my desk, I decided to join in on the conversation. Over the span of a half hour, we talked about laws. Their standing and ethics. We talked about humans, whether evil really existed. How life was a vicious cycle. How we were all hypocrites and part of the problem. We discussed the world. How it may just be possible that our entire universe exists in a speck on a giant’s skin. That humans are just old stars. The fabric of time. That millions of light years away, aliens could still see the dinosaurs dotting the earth’s surface.

Now, I realize this isn’t normal workplace discussion. In fact, some of it’s probably not even factual. Definitely isn’t factual. But it’s where our imaginations led us. Moments before, we had just arrived back from a meeting about the impending doom facing our office—that is, we’re all being laid off. School budget. Tough economy. Such and such. It’s not really the point, but there was the taste of change on our tongues.

When we began talking about time, I mentioned Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, how Mazer Rackham is kept alive because time moves slower in space. And later, when we talked about humans—our impact on the environment, the atrocities we commit as a species—I mentioned Margaret Atwood’s MadAddam Trilogy, how one human nearly wiped out the entire race, on purpose, because he believed it was the right thing to do. We had our chance. We lost it.


Should You Pay for a Summer Writing Retreat?

Summer is coming, and that means, for all of us students, teachers, and other lucky SOB’s that get summer free, it’s time to make plans. I plan on writing this summer, and I hope you are too. Now, you can spend hundreds to thousands of dollars improving your writing by heading out to a writing retreat off in some scenic part of the country with professional/published instructors, or, if you’re poor like me, you can write at home and use the internet to find new methods for improving.

A great place to start is right here. We’ve got a ton of writing advice from all around the internet, and we constantly try to inspire you when it comes to your writing. This blog post is just a few past entries I feel will be particularly helpful this summer in getting your writing muscles in shape.

Reading is a great way of improving your writing, but you know, reading alone isn’t always fun. Why not throw a silent reading party with friends? I think this is a great way to socialize, read a good book, and discuss what literary elements you enjoyed and get feedback from others. Knowing what other readers like about books will help you incorporate those elements into whatever you are writing as well.


Goodreads Challenge: How are We Doing?

We’re about one-fourth of the way through the year, and that means I should have about twenty-five books read as part of my one-hundred-books-this-year Goodreads challenge. Now, I have been reading a lot, but, I’m afraid, I’m not quiet at twenty-five books yet.

I'm not doing too badly though, either.
I’m not doing too badly though, either.

Nineteen books is a lot. I am proud to have gotten this far, but I know I still need to read more. Most of these nineteen books were for classes at school, and I want to add a lot more books that I’ve read for pleasure to that list. I’m on a one week break from school, so chances are, I’ll at least get three or four more books added to my challenge before my vacation is over.

Now, let’s see how Melanie is doing.


Getting Kids to Read More

Children’s literacy is a big concern for the nation. We, as a society, all want our children to read, but getting them to read through intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation can be difficult.

When I was a kid, we had extrinsic types of motivation for reading—if we read, collectively, a certain number of books, we got a pizza party in second, third, and fourth grade. In fifth grade, we were offered a root beer float party for reaching our goal. In sixth grade, we had points we’d get for books read, and with those points we could buy stuff from the teacher’s store—things like cute animal erasers and pencils.

These actually really suck as erasers.

I enjoyed the books I read, but I know a lot of my other classmates read for the rewards rather than reading the books for the content. That’s the problem with extrinsic motivation—the motivation is external, and that external motivation can circumvent the purpose of the motivation for the promise of a reward.

But extrinsic motivation is easy, which is why it’s often used by teachers in the classroom. Kids can understand material rewards for the work that they do, but that isn’t necessarily something that should be reinforced in a classroom.


Reading Parties

Silent reading seems like a thing of the past for people like me who are no longer a part of the public school system. I’m pretty sure every public elementary, middle, and high school in America enforced silent reading, and maybe—hopefully—they still do. At my school in Newhall, California, this reading time was referred to as D.E.A.R., or Drop Everything And Read, and I looked forward to DEAR-ing. Think about it: every day, Monday through Friday, there were fifteen minutes set aside in which all I had to do was read. It was incredible.

I believe that if there were a place I could go to read, and be surrounded by other people reading, I would read more often. It’s like when I go to a coffee shop to do work because I can’t get work done at home; for whatever reason, I am more motivated to get work done, read, or write when I am surrounded by others doing similar things.

The Sorrento Hotel in Seattle, Washington has figured out what readers want: a comfortable, classy environment in which they can read, be surrounded by many others reading, and drink $5 Manhattans all night. The “event” is a Silent Reading Party, and it is held in the hotel’s “Fireside Room” on Wednesday nights. I write event with quotation marks because it isn’t necessarily an event; there is no time you are required to show up, and there is no duration of time you must stay. Nothing even really happens: people show up, they read, and they leave. That’s it. And every week, the event is packed, which makes me wonder why more hotels—or any other businesses—elsewhere in the country don’t host silent reading parties. My friends and I would go there every week if there were one in Long Beach or somewhere within an hour’s drive. 

The Fireside Room (Credit: www.hotelsorrento.com)


Don’t Deny it: You Want a Home Library, Too!

I’ve known for a long time that I want a library in my future home. When I was fourteen and had absolutely no money to my name, my father taught me how to log on to his Amazon and Ebay accounts so I could order books that would magically appear on the front porch within one week. I would order anywhere from three to five books every time I logged onto his account, so I accumulated a library of books very quickly. With just over two hundred books in my apartment today, I am well on my way to my goal of having a library in my future home. I don’t think it will need to be anything fancy; I just need a room to display my books and read them one by one in a big comfy chair by the fireplace, perhaps with a glass of red wine or gin. If it is two stories, that would be rather nice, too; then I could have a rolling ladder or a spiral staircase. Or both. Nothing too special, really.

Some days when I’m feeling uninspired by life, I go on Pinterest and look up bookshelves and home libraries, reminding myself that if I can just bring myself to write a best-selling novel, I can actually have the money to bring my dreams of having a home library to reality.

Here are some from my “Library Inspiration” Board:


NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books – How Many have You Read?

I’ve read 15 out of 100. That pretty much means I’ve failed, if I were to convert that score into a grade.

I could say I don’t agree with their list–but that’d be a lie. I recognize the names of all of the books on the Top 100 list and from the ones I have read, I know that the list is pretty good.

I just have most of these books on my “to read” list. Someday I will read them all, I hope. While I can’t say anything about the books I don’t know, I can testify to the 15 of the 100 I have read and why you should read them too.

One book to rule them all…

Alright, I don’t think this book needs my help in convincing people to read it. It is a classic for a reason–it’s awesome. If you want more convincing, watch the movies and when they leave you wanting more, turn to the books.


Bookstores Worth Visiting Europe For

After my college career officially ends with (hopefully) a PhD, I want to take a backpacking trip to Europe and explore the wonders and charms of all the exciting bookstores that continent has to offer.

That’s right, I said it, bookstores. And when I say backpack, I mean this:

Ah yeah, look at the rolling capabilities on this baby.

Because I’m going to buy way too many books to carry on my back.

My bucket-list of European bookstores starts with Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France, not just because of the name, or the fact that I love wine and cheese, but, well, because this:

It would feel like I’m reading a book in a beautiful hobbit hole.


Bookstores Worth Visiting Around the Americas

I’ve written about the bookstore I stopped at in Taipei, Taiwan and I’ve written about libraries around the world I want to steal features from for my future home library, and now I’m going to share my bookstore bucket list with you. It’s no secret that I want to travel around the world and part of what I want to do in other countries is visit bookstores and fill my future library with books around the world.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Ares, Argentina is at the top of my list. The bookstore itself is beautiful, and, as of yet, my travels have not taken me to Latin America. I’m enthusiastic to see what the Shakespeare section of this book store looks like. As of now, I have a tradition of buying a book of Shakespeare’s Sonnets from every country I’ve visited. Right now, my collection is at 3. I’d like for one of my next copies to come from this gorgeous place:

Yes, I want to visit the pretty bookstore and buy all the books. ALL THE BOOKS.