Thursday, April 24, 2014

What the Heck is Magical Realism?

     What an excellent question, people!  Magical realism is a type of fiction that goes along like any average realistic/historical novel until suddenly the character starts talking to her mother's ghost or bursts into flames at the sight of her one true love.  This kind of book has scenes of magic that highlight the book's themes and heighten the drama of the story, without completely turning it into a work of fantasy.  I started reading a magical realism memoir recently and it's reminded me of how much I love the genre, so here is a list of my favorites!
Just to give you an idea of how many Post-Its I need
to keep up with Woman Warrior
1. Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston- This book is the inspiration for this post.  The writer interspersed stories from her life with stories from her family past, Chinese legends, warped oral histories, and allegories.  It's super confusing and trippy, but with a purpose. And that's my favorite kind of book honestly.
2. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel- I read this book in Spanish a few years ago  before I even knew what magical realism was, and I had to read certain passages over and over because I was sure that something was being lost in translation.  But no, I was reading correctly when a woman burst into literal flames at the sight of her lover
3. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende- The crazy story of a wealthy family divided between a twisted domineering patriarch and his mystical women, set at a time of revolution in Chile.
4.  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- A classic story of a young man coming of age, except this one is set in a graveyard.  The boy was raised by ghosts and is being hunted by a mythical character called Jack. There is no explanation for anything that occurs in this book, but a lot of it is based in mythology, so most people can figure the details out for themselves.  Many of Gaiman's other books, such as Coraline, are also magical realism.
5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak- Seems like totally normal (though quite above average) historical fiction centered on the Holocaust, until you realize that the story has a very unusual narrator.
     **Practically every book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez should be on this list as well, since he is one of the greatest magical realist writers ever, but I am an uncultured bum and have read none of them :P  Don't worry though, I will be remedying this problem very soon!
     - Carly

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book Review: On Writing Well by William Zinsser

My personal kind of beat-up copy
     I read this book for the first time a few years ago in middle school, when I got it as a birthday present from  an adult who had heard I liked to write stories.  At that time I was in this phase where I believed that the more adjectives and the bigger words I used, the more authoritative I sounded.  So when William Zinsser popped out and started telling me to Simplify, simplify, simply, my first impulse was to slam the book shut. But soon I saw the value of his advice, and that is how On Writing Well changed my life and my perspective on writing.
     What really convinced me to listen to him was how well he wrote.  Zinsser has this awe-inspiringly simple voice when he writes.  Reading his book was like sitting in an English class.  It was like listening to a soft-spoken but amicable relative talk.  True to his own teachings, there was not a single unnecessary adverb or frivolous noun anywhere.  And most of all, it was fun to read.  I think anyone, not just writers, could find enjoyment in this book because he writes so well.
     His excellent writing style aside, the book proffers loads of good advice.  It starts with the basics of building a simple solid sentence and goes on to provide whole chapters on writing articles of every kind: reviews, sports writing, news, humor, travel. He tells you how to conduct an interview.  He explains the process of building a book.  He assures you that although writing is hard and lonely, it is feasible to do it well if you drop the pretenses and write as yourself.  Everything that he says about writing, I have since found to be true.
     The point of this review is that if you use writing in your life or even if you would like to, this is the book to start with.  I have gone back to it many times since middle school and it is always helpful and inspiring.
If you feel the need to add to your platform of writing knowledge, I would follow On Writing Well with  On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly by Gail Carson Levine.