The 3 most frustrating books of my college career (so far…)

Endless hours of studying the same chapters over and over; bleeding highlighters dry; hating your prof. for submitting you to such torment and agony; pounding your fist raw at 3am because you have no idea what on earth you’ve been staring at all night long; sound familiar? During our time at college we all encounter a few books that make us crawl into a cave and pray for death. These are mine:

I.

Merchants of Culture

I was excited to read this one. The cover looks great and I really wanted to learn how the publishing industry works… but not that much. Whew! Thompson is going to school you something fierce on the history, the current state of, and the future of the publishing industry. I can’t call this a bad book, and it’s insanely thorough with the subject matter it handles, but 21 pages on the ‘virtues of being a small publishing house’, and I truly mean dense pages replete with graphs and abundant statistical analysis, is enough for any English major to grab his/her Hot Pockets and head to that nice little business school down the road.  Take this one on only if you are absolutely determined to know everything about the publishing biz. Have fun keeping your eyes open.

II.

Aquinas

When some young theorist starts talking to me about philosophy, I start talking to them about literature:

Him -“I think Kant’s theory of the categorical imperative was deeply seeded and abetted by the Stoic view on mortality and ethics, though there is a tinge of the Peripatetic in there as well, at least that’s what I gather from reading Cicero.”

Me – “Interesting. I’ve always thought that Queequeg was more of a reflection on Melville’s yearning for a wild innocence in the new world, as opposed to the commonly held belief that he was written as a subversive comment on the evils of ‘The White Man’s Burden.’

What ensues is the greatest stare-down you will ever have. Try it.

Kidding aside, I do enjoy hefty doses of philosophy at times. But Aquinas was a gob-smack for me. The style of this particular book  was easy enough to understand. Basically, it’s formatted in the question-answer-objection-reply to that objection manner, but the content is rough going. No matter how many times I would work through a problem posed by Aquinas, I could never understand what his real answer was. Maybe I didn’t have the mental astuteness to gleam all the knowledge he was throwing down, or maybe I couldn’t follow the train of thought he led me on, but something made me throw this book out of my office window. Certainly the most frustrating book I’ve ever read. Probably, because I wanted to understand but just couldn’t. Like I said, frustrating.

III.

The Art of Fiction

I’ll probably get some heat for this pick, but that’s fine with me. Man, I simply couldn’t stand this book. Gardner’s style of writing about writing is pompous, arrogant, and horribly glib. He comes off as a pinky-in-the-air intellectual that knows everything better than you do. Do you really want to sift through page after page of a know-it-all’s advice? I sure didn’t. In fact, I stopped reading half way through because I couldn’t take Gardner’s attitude any longer. Some writers I know swear by this book, and there is some good advice if you can slog past all the erudite belittling Gardner dishes out, but those little nuggets of wisdom pale in comparison to the totally miserable read that this book actually is. I simply don’t have time for that.

What do you think? I’d love to hear about the books that made you beat your brains out in the wee hours of the early morning. Hate my choices? Fire away!

 

5 Writing Reference Guides That Will Help Any Aspiring Writer

With so many writing reference and guide books out there, and I mean thousands to choose from, it can be hard to pick the right one for your needs. Maybe you don’t even know your needs as a writer but you feel it’s high time you got some guidance for your craft. I’ve listed 5 books that have helped me along tremendously with my literary journey. Some were required for college, and some I sought out on my own, but each one of these is a goldmine of knowledge for the aspiring writer:

Writers market

Writer’s Market is simply a must have for anyone that hopes to be published. Period. Not only are there thousands of listings for agents, book publishers, magazines, and trade journals, but each listing describes what each source is looking for and how to get in contact with them. There are also a ton of essays in the beginning of the book that go into detail about how to get published and just about anything else that pertains to getting your work out there. I’ve used this one time and time again, so should you.

show-your-work-cover1

With the feel of a bathroom reader and the soul of the absolute best reference guides, Show Your Work! is a quick shot to the brain that will teach you how to build your platform. Eye opening to say the least, consider this your bible on how to build up your media presence and make it stand apart from the pack. I didn’t know how to blog; I didn’t know how to garner a following with social media; I didn’t realize that they were all connected – now I do. If you’re trying to navigate the confusing world of platform building, this is the book for you.

Sci-fi Fantasy

The genre writing book. Everyone should have one. I picked this particular one because I was writing mostly Sci-Fi/Fantasy at the time. These books will get you into the nuts and bolts of whatever genre you are writing in. I’m a big proponent of breaking away from established tropes and clichés in my writing; these people are, too. But to put your original twist on a tried and true format, you really need to know why these forms are so trusted and popular. All the ones I’ve seen have described in detail what makes these established genres so beloved and how you can contribute your own, original piece of the pie into the equation. Get one, read it, and spin the literary world on its head.

The Craft of Research

Let’s face it, we all do some sort of research when we’re developing our stories. The Craft of Research will show you how it’s done. There’s a lot more to the type of research you need to do as a writer than just Googling your topic and scrolling through a couple of pages. These guys tell you how to do it, step by step, and line by line. We all may dread the research part of the writing we are about to commence, but if you use this guide then things will become much more tolerable. You might even begin to like the whole process – the mark of any truly great reference book.

And lastly,

Oxford

I know, I know. “It’s a crutch!” and Stephen King is turning over in one of his literary graves right now. But I think differently. Sometimes you simply don’t have the right word for what you are trying to convey. This one will lead you to it (and you can now stop pounding your face off the keyboard because you finally found the word ‘erumpent’ and all is right with the world.) What I love about this thesaurus is, first and foremost, words are listed alphabetically. That makes my life so much easier. It also has some style and usage guides in it, as well as quick little “reflections” on a particular word from established authors that will help illuminate what they should actually be used for (my personal favorite is David Foster Wallace’s reflection on ‘feckless’ which he described, among other things, as a ‘totally great adjective’.) I won’t sit here and lecture you about the correct way to use a thesaurus but if your going to get one, put this at the top of your list.

So that’s it, my fav. 5 so far. You probably noticed I didn’t put any “Art of…” type books on this list, really because I haven’t found one that I liked yet, but I’ve got Kings “On Writing” and Mary Karr’s “The Art of Memoir” on my list for this year. This is by no means an all-inclusive list either, so chime in and let me know what guides are an absolute must have in your book (no pun intended.)