Useful resources for the aspiring writer

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Typewriters at the ready, comrades. Here are some priceless resources to help you with your writing!

Filled with creative passion? Determined to make this year the year that you finally finish writing that novel you’ve been working on? We’re here to help. Can we write your novel for you? We would if only we could. Alas, that part is down to you; however, we can provide you with useful tools and resources that will help improve your writing process, and even the quality of the words you put to paper.

Just as a good handyman should have a box for his tools, so too should a good writer have at the ready those tools and resources that help him write. As such, we’ve compiled a list below of writing resources.

All power to your pens, comrades!

First things first – the site that plans your writing schedule

Is there such a thing as the perfect daily routine for writing? There’s certainly no one size fits all formula – you have to find the routine that suits you. But one thing all writers must do is (and this may sound obvious) to find the time to actually write. We work in myriad versions of uncomfortable hours and lead different lifestyles – but Pacemaker.com is a tool that helps you plan your writing schedule, and can make sure you stick to it. Check it out!

 

Get your vocabulary sorted: get your dictionary

David Foster Wallace claimed that all students of writing should carry a dictionary with them at all times. Save yourself an ounce of weight with OneLook.com, which helps you find, define, and translate words all at one site.

The site that analyses your writing for readability, syllables, word length and more

Introducing wordcounttools.com – the go-to-place to gain an analytical breakdown of your writing. Valuable insights to be found!

Writing tips from a creative writing lecturer

Julia Bell is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on creative writing. Here, she shares with us the top ten pieces of advice she gives her students at the start of each year. Whether you enjoy writing simply for the pleasure it gives you, or if you are looking to develop and improve, these top tips will set you on your way!

Get talking: subscribe to your friendly local subreddit

They don’t call Reddit the front page of the internet for nothing. But while its front page of cat GIFs and interesting and obscure facts is all very well, the real value of the site comes from the users who make its communities (‘subreddits’) great places to share thoughts, ideas, and your own work.

Try some of the best ones specifically curated for and by writers:

r/writing

r/KeepWriting

r/writers

r/writinginsights

General writing skills: Writer’s digest

Writer’s Digest offers information on writing better and getting published. The site also includes community forums, blogs and huge lists of resources for writers.

Avoid the grammar Nazis! A crash course in English punctuation and grammar

A quick and useful crash course in English punctuation.

Grammar Girl

Mignon Fogarty’s quick and dirty tips for better writing. Grammar Girl provides short, friendly tips to improve your writing. Covering the grammar rules and word choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers, Grammar Girl makes complex grammar questions simple with memory tricks to help you recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules.

Vital reading for all writers: The Elements of Style

A freely available online version of the book “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr., the classic reference book. (Of course, you should also buy the hard copy, too!)

Get your reading hats on: free sites to download literature

While we of course advocate supporting your local independent book store – and independent publishing houses – and would urge you to purchase copies of your books where you can afford to, here you can find a collection of 55 websites where you can download tens of thousands of books, plays and texts for free. Oh, and these sites are also all completely legal, of course!

Further reading: A subscription to Brain Pickings

An inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more. If you’re seeking inspiration, you’ll find it here.

A  list of all the writing  competitions that you can submit your work to in the year ahead!

Now that you are armed with the resources you need to take your writing to the next level, consider getting your stories out there. Submit your work to these writing competitions taking place in the coming months.

And now for the big one: a site that contains the information of thousands of literary agents

You’ve got the schedule down. You’ve done the analytics of your writing. You’ve learned how to rewrite. You’ve done the extra curricular reading. Now, with your finished novel – get an agent!

Finally – advice on how to get one of these literary agents for yourself

Having the contact details of literary agents is all very well; but how do you actually go about getting one? Help reduce the risk of getting those morale-crushing rejection letters by following the sage advice of an author who has been there and done that, Charlotte Salter.

Creatives in profile: Interview with Papertrail Podcast founder, Alex Blott

 

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It’s no secret that the team here at Nothing in the Rulebook are always looking out for new and exciting creative projects. So when we stumbled upon the brand-spanking-new (and quite-ruddy-brilliant) Papertrail Podcast our minds were immediately filled with an assortment of creative possibilities.

Founded in 2016, Papertrail Podcast is a monthly book podcast featuring interviews with authors and creatives about their favourite books.

It is an honour to bring you this detailed interview with the founder of this fabulous podcast, Alex Blott.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, your background and ethos.

BLOTT

Sure, I’m in my late 20’s (just got pushed into them by my birthday). I studied English Lit and Creative Writing at undergrad and then got my Masters in Professional Writing. More than anything, despite the course titles, I think my studies turned me into a better reader, and it was probably being introduced to  different writers by the course that gave me the idea for the podcast in the first place. I don’t know I’ve spent that much time thinking about my own ethos, but the site was founded to help me grow my reading and knowledge of writers, so I suppose ‘keep learning’?

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

BLOTT

All sorts of people. Writers and Podcasters, obviously. But also people who are out there getting work done. I love watching documentaries or reading articles that show people hard at work on something they obviously care about. No matter what that it is, there’s always something you can learn from watching that process.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us a bit about Papertrail Podcast – what inspired you to first set the podcast up; and how has it developed from then?

BLOTT

Sure, Papertrail is a monthly podcast series where I speak with authors and other creative people about the books that matter to them or have influenced them in some way. We do our best to keep the show spoiler free, but throw up a warning if there are any major spoilers in the show. The three books chosen by my guests are intended to serve as both an insight into who they are as people, but also to introduce listeners to authors they might otherwise never hear of.

In terms of what inspired it… Years ago I was listening to a bunch of literary podcasts and I realised that all of my favourites at the time were American. That’s not so true anymore, but at the time I started thinking how great it would be to have a show like those that wasn’t so US centric. It took me three years to actually make my own show, and in that time I found a lot of podcasts that were doing exactly that, but I thought I had an interesting idea so I pushed on with it and here we are!

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Papertrail Podcast is a monthly book podcast featuring interviews with writers and creatives about their favourite books. Check it out! 

INTERVIEWER

What does it take to pull together a literary podcast?

BLOTT

It’s a bit of a daft thing to say, but you need to have a genuine interest in your topic. Not just a basic ‘I like reading’ kind of interest (although that’s a great place to start). You need to really care about producing something good, and have a solid idea of what you’re trying to achieve with each episode. A lot of people start podcasts and then burn out because they didn’t really know what they wanted it to be, or they weren’t as enthusiastic about the topic as they thought. One of the reasons it took three years for me to make the show was because, although I knew I wanted to make a literary podcast, I didn’t know what the show looked like. It was only once I really narrowed it down and focused on my desire to broaden my reading that I had an idea good enough to execute on. Knowing that the show’s central purpose is to introduce people to new authors and books influences the way I interview, the way I read the books, and the way I talk about them.

INTERVIEWER

How do you plan and prepare for each new episode?

BLOTT

Sourcing authors takes some time. I keep an eye open online for people who are writing interesting stuff or attracting a lot of great praise. Then I’ll read some of their stuff to get a better idea of who they are and what they’re interested in. Then I’ll get in touch and, if they’re keen to record, set a date. I read all of their chosen books ahead of time as well, which isn’t something I planned on doing when I started the show. Turns out if only one person has read the book it can be hard to keep a conversation going, who knew! After I’ve read the books I make a few notes, but I try to keep them very simple so that I’m always engaged in the conversation rather than re-reading what I’ve already written. If you do that you risk missing the good stuff.

INTERVIEWER

Are there any other podcasters you listen to regularly for new ideas? Or any like-minded websites that you’d recommend checking out?

BLOTT

Absolutely! I could talk about this all day so I’ll trim it back to three shows that I really enjoy and respect.

First, Other People with Brad Listi. This was the show that got me thinking about what I wanted to achieve with my own podcast. Brad uses a very similar line of questioning with every one of this guests, and if you looked at the format you’d think it doesn’t sound all that interesting: ‘Where did you grow up? What were like you like as a child? Were your parent’s creative? What’s your writing practice like.’ They’re simple questions, but really they’re there to open up Brad’s guests and allow him in to talk about much more personal stuff. It’s a very genuine show, and that made me uncomfortable when I first started listening to it, but now it’s really something that I aspire to. If you check it out, persevere through Brad’s monologues, they get better as you get to know him more.

Second, The Longform Podcast. This is a fantastic series focusing on creative non-fiction writers and journalists. The podcast itself is an extension to an already brilliant website. It’s got three hosts, all with their individual interview style and approach, and the people they have on are simply fantastic. Longform was basically my gateway to better and more varied non-fiction reading and I am hugely thankful for it. In terms of what I learn from it, I enjoy the way they interview their guests, mixing in personal questions and anecdotes with more deep-dives into the work itself. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out how to do consistently well on Papertrail, but I’ll get there.

Finally, Literary Friction. This is a fantastic monthly podcast series that, for me, shines the brightest of all the current British literary podcasts. The show is consistent, professionally produced and excellently formatted. Every episode revolves around a theme, and the hosts, Octavia and Carrie, always speak on whatever topic they choose with equal measures of humour, sincerity, and intelligence. They have some fantastic guests on to make their own book recommendations and talk about their own work. It’s fantastic.

INTERVIEWER

What does the average day look like to you?

BLOTT

I work as a freelance copywriter so pretty much just sat in front of the computer getting words down. I tend to read in the evenings or when work lulls, and then once a month I spend half a day recording and editing a new podcast episode, getting it ready for release.

INTERVIEWER

What do you think a podcast should be for? Why are they important?

BLOTT

I don’t know that they ‘should be’ for anything. Podcasts are just like any medium, it’s all about what you can do with them. That said, I think they flourish as a source of information and learning because they’re so accessible and can be listened to on the move or in the car or while you work.

As for why they’re important. I think a lot of people can find time to listen to a podcast when they might not be able to watch a video or read a book. Also, it’s a growing creative medium, and we need as many of those as we can get!

INTERVIEWER

Obviously, the rise of the internet has seen a big culture shift in the way we communicate. What role do you see podcasts playing in this new “digital era”?

BLOTT

Greater minds than me are trying to figure that out at the moment, so I’ll bow out. If you’re interested in this question though, I heartily recommend Gimlet Media’s ‘Startup’ series. In particular, the first season and later episodes that examine Gimlet itself, and how they’re responding to the explosion of podcast popularity.

INTERVIEWER

When there are so many podcasts, and so many different voices speaking at once – how do you try to make your voices heard – how do you cut through the babble?

BLOTT

It comes back to what I said earlier about knowing what you’re trying to do with the show. No matter your niche, be it a pop-culture round up, a weekly marketing trend discussion, or a DnD play-along with your friends. The best shows, the ones that rise to the top of the rankings, have a specific goal in mind, and execute on that week in, week out so that their listeners know exactly what to expect.

Also, sound quality. It makes such a difference, nobody wants to listen to your voice through a haze of static or the sound of your PC in the background.

INTERVIEWER

What are some of the main challenges you face?

BLOTT

Reading time. I want to give every book its due and make sure I’m soaking in what it has to give, but sometimes a recommendation comes in that’s a bit of a tome and I know I’m going to have to grind it out and make extra time. And of course, now and again, you get a book that you’re not a huge fan of, but I haven’t found that to be a big challenge , because I’m reading them in the light of the person who recommended it, and that’s always interesting.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

BLOTT

Bloody hell.

I guess for me it’s getting into something and looking to innovate and improve every day. It’s got a lot to do with knowing in your heart that you can do it a little better or a little more interesting. You just need to figure out how. Which can also cause a lot of anxiety, so it’s important to pair that with an understanding that what you’re doing now still has worth. What’s the saying? Perfection is the enemy of done?

INTERVIEWER

What’s next for the podcast? Any exciting projects or episodes in the pipeline?

BLOTT

Yeah! Lots of great guests lined up, I was pro-active towards the end of 2016 with booking authors ahead of time so that’s freeing me up to start thinking about what else to do with the website. I’ve been speaking with a few friends about adding some written interviews and other work, which would be loads of fun if it does take off.

I’ve resolved to get better at Twitter as well. I am a terrible Twitter user. But I’m better when I have someone to talk to, so if you’re reading this and want to talk books then @PapertrailPod and we can have a natter.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in six words?

BLOTT

Secret biscuits, gobbled while she’s away. (I hope she doesn’t read this)

INTERVIEWER

What are your 5 – 10 top tips for aspiring podcasters?

BLOTT

Lightning round!

  1. Do research before you start your show. Know who you like, who you want to emulate, and why they are successful.
  2. Soft launch first. Don’t do a big song and dance for your first episode if it’s your first time doing it. Put it on social, share it with your friends for feedback, but focus on a good show first. Marketing second.
  3. Audio quality matters. Invest in a decent microphone.
  4. If you’re going to use Skype, get people to record their own audio at their end and then splice it together. Don’t just record Skype.
  5. Don’t splash loads of cash on editing software. Audacity is free and excellent. Use the money you saved to buy a better mic.
  6. Don’t start a podcast to make money. If it happens, great, but most podcasts either break even, or lose you money.
  7. Join the community. There’s a fantastic network of hobbyists and professionals talking about podcasting online. I spend plenty of time lurking the podcasting subreddits and asking questions when I need help. It’s by and large a friendly and supportive community, and it’s also a great place to find listeners for your show!

 

Strong Opinions: Vladimir Nabokov’s most controversial views on writing and literature

 

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Self-described as “an American author, born in Russia, educated in England, [who] studied French texts”, Vladimir Nabokov is one of the most remarkable figures of 20th century literature. Perhaps most famous for his novel, Lolita, Nabokov was also a world-renowned expert on butterflies, so much so that in the 1940s he became curator of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology’s butterfly collection. His niche in this quadrant of zoology? An in-depth understanding and life-long research into butterfly genitalia.

Nabokov was also a man of controversy. Many will know of the backlash provoked by Lolita, but fewer perhaps will be aware of how his stubbornly held, often controversial views on literature, writers, famous books and literary critics provoked consternation and shock during his life – and after his death.

A glimpse of this is held in this short film (below) in which the author features. What starts out as a simple reading of Lolita in both English and Russian quickly turns to an airing of Nabokov’s opinions – on the most overrated books in literature.

In the filmed interview (around the 3:24 mark), Nabokov points his lance at the inflated popular notion of “great books”:

“I’ve been perplexed and amused by fabricated notions about so-called “great books.” That, for instance, Mann’s asinine Death in Venice, or Pasternak’s melodramatic, vilely written Doctor Zhivago, or Faulkner’s corncobby chronicles can be considered masterpieces, or at least what journalists term “great books,” is to me the same sort of absurd delusion as when a hypnotized person makes love to a chair.”

The fact that Lolita now tops (or at least features in) many ‘top books of all time’ lists variously assembled across the digital realm of the internet perhaps would not impress Nabokov in the slightest.

Nor, it seems, would much else (besides butterflies, of course).

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Photograph from becky-r/Flickr via Creative Commons

 

Indeed, in a celebrated collection of essays and musings, Strong Opinions, Nabokov lays out some of his most controversial ideas and thoughts. Featuring interviews with the author from the Paris Review to Playboy, the work is a fantastic read for anyone interested (or in need of a refreshing and alternative take on the way we think about writing and literature).

Below, we’ve selected a few of our favourite quotes, and listed a few of the literary titans Nabokov attempts to cut down to size – from E.M Forster through T.S Eliot and D.H. Lawrence.

Nabokov’s strong opinions in quotes

Firstly, to the idea of artistic groups or movements:

“I am not interested in groups, movements, schools of writing and so forth. I am interested only in the individual artist. There are only a few great writers and their work is grotesquely imitated by a number of banal scribblers whom a phony label assists commercially.”

(Note to ourselves: Nabokov would probably not have been a fan of collectives of creatives like Nothing in the Rulebook…)

Secondly – to the readers of his books (SPOILER ALERT: he’s not a fan):

“I don’t think that an artist should bother about his audience. His best audience is the person he sees in his shaving mirror every morning. I think that the audience an artist imagines, when he imagines that kind of a thing, is a room filled with people wearing his own mask.”

(What can we takeaway from this? Vladimir’s house parties were probably not the greatest fun. We imagine the topic of conversation at such events might be ever so slightly self-centred).

Thirdly – literary critics have no purpose

“Literary criticism is not at all purposeful. The purpose of a critique is to say something about a book the critic has or has not read. Criticism can be instructive in the sense that it gives readers, including the author of the book, some information about the critic’s intelligence, or honesty, or both.”

(Vlad probably wouldn’t be a fan of our book reviews, either, then)

Fourth – Editors; beware!

“Among the editors I have known they have been limpid creatures of limitless tact and tenderness who would discuss with me a semicolon as if it were a point of honour – which, indeed, a point of art often is. But I have also come across a few pompous avuncular brutes who would attempt to “make suggestions” which I countered with a thunderous “stet!””

And fifth – sex!

“Sex as an institution, sex as a general notion, sex as a problem, sex as a platitude—all this is something I find too tedious for words. Let us skip sex.”

Nabokov vs the literary establishment

  • Balzac, Honoré de. “Mediocre. Fakes realism with easy platitudes.”
  • Brecht, Bertolt: “A nonentity, means absolutely nothing to me.”
  • Camus, Albert: “I Dislike him. He is second-rate, ephemeral, puffed-up. Awful.”
  • Dostoevsky Fyodor: “He is a cheap sensationalist, clumsy and vulgar. He is less a prophet than a puffed up journalist and a slapdash comedian. Nobod takes his reactionary journalism seriously. Crime and punishment was a ghastly rigmarole.”
  • Eliot, T. S: “not quite first rate.”
  • Faulkner, William: “A writer of corncobby chronicles. To consider them masterpieces is an absurd delusion.”
  • Forster, E. M: “My knowledge of Mr. Forster’s works is limited to one novel, A Passage to India, which I dislike.”
  • Gogol, Nikolai: “Nobody takes his mystical didacticism seriously. At his worst, as in his Ukrainian stuff, he is a worthless writer; at his best, he is incomparable and inimitable. I loathe his moralistic slant, am depressed and puzzled by his inability to describe young women, and deplore his obsession with religion.”
  • Hemingway, Ernest: “He is merely a writer of books for boys. He is better than Conrad and has at least a style of his own. But it is nothing I would care to have written myself. In terms of mentality and emotion, he is hopelessly juvenile. I loathe his works about bels, balls and bulls.”
  • Lawrence, D. H: “Execrable.”
  • Pound, Ezra: “Definitely second rate. A total fake; a venerable fraud.”
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul: “Even more awful than Camus.”

 

 

55 places you can download tens of thousands books, plays and other literary texts completely legally for free

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In an increasingly digital world, literature is evolving. Sales of e-readers continue to rise, yet the cost of digital books and texts has not necessarily decreased to the extent to which many initially predicted. With authors’ incomes collapsing to near “abject” levels, and with public libraries under threat from swingeing public spending cuts, we felt honour bound to provide our fine readers with some valuable resources that could help save valuable money.

While we of course advocate supporting your local independent book store – and independent publishing houses – and would urge you to purchase copies of your books where you can afford to, below you can find a collection of 45 websites where you can download tens of thousands of books, plays and texts for free. Oh, and these sites are also all completely legal, of course!

Browse works by Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Joseph Conrad, William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Edgar Allen Poe and other famous writers here.

  1. Classic Bookshelf: This site has put classic novels online, from Charles Dickens to Charlotte Bronte.
  2. The Online Books Page: The University of Pennsylvania hosts this book search and database.
  3. Project Gutenberg: This famous site has over 27,000 free books online (in fact, a lot of the books listed in subsequent sites here can be found at PG – yet we list the others as users may prefer different site’s interfaces, while the others below also help tailor searches for specific types of books or plays).
  4. Page by Page Books: Find books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells, as well as speeches from George W. Bush on this site.
  5. Classic Book Library: Genres here include historical fiction, history, science fiction, mystery, romance and children’s literature, but they’re all classics.
  6. Classic Reader: Here you can read Shakespeare, young adult fiction and more.
  7. Read Print: From George Orwell to Alexandre Dumas to George Eliot to Charles Darwin, this online library is stocked with the best classics.
  8. Planet eBook: Download free classic literature titles here, from Dostoevsky to D.H. Lawrence to Joseph Conrad.
  9. The Spectator Project: Montclair State University’s project features full-text, online versions ofThe Spectator and The Tatler.
  10. Bibliomania: This site has more than 2,000 classic texts, plus study guides and reference books.
  11. Online Library of Literature: Find full and unabridged texts of classic literature, including the Bronte sisters, Mark Twain and more.
  12. Bartleby: Bartleby has much more than just the classics, but its collection of anthologies and other important novels made it famous.
  13. us:Fiction.us has a huge selection of novels, including works by Lewis Carroll, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, Flaubert, George Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others.
  14. Free Classic Literature: Find British authors like Shakespeare and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, plus other authors like Jules Verne, Mark Twain, and more.
  1. net: Here you can read plays by Chekhov, Thomas Hardy, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and others.
  2. Plays: ReadPygmalionUncle Vanya or The Playboy of the Western World
  3. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: MIT has made available all of Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies, and histories
  4. Plays Online: This site catalogs “all the plays [they] know about that are available in full text versions online for free.”
  5. ProPlay: This site has children’s plays, comedies, dramas and musicals.
  6. Public Bookshelf: Find romance novels, mysteries and more.
  7. The Internet Book Database of Fiction: This forum features fantasy and graphic novels, anime, J.K. Rowling and more.
  8. Free Online Novels: Here you can find Christian novels, fantasy and graphic novels, adventure books, horror books and more.
  9. Foxglove: This British site has free novels, satire and short stories.
  10. Baen Free Library: Find books by Scott Gier, Keith Laumer and others.
  11. The Road to Romance: This website has books by Patricia Cornwell and other romance novelists.
  12. Get Free Ebooks: This site’s largest collection includes fiction books.
  13. John T. Cullen: Read short stories from John T. Cullen here.
  14. SF and Fantasy Books Online: Books here includeArabian Nights,Aesop’s Fables and more.
  15. Free Novels Online and Free Online Cyber-Books: This list contains mostly fantasy books.
  1. The Literature Network: This site features forums, a copy of The King James Bible, and over 3,000 short stories and poems.
  2. Poetry: This list includes “The Raven,” “O Captain! My Captain!” and “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.”
  3. Poem Hunter: Find free poems, lyrics and quotations on this site.
  4. Famous Poetry Online: Read limericks, love poetry, and poems by Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Lord Byron and others.
  5. Google Poetry: Google Books has a large selection of poetry, from The Canterbury Talesto Beowulf to Walt Whitman.
  6. com: Read poems by Maya Angelou, William Blake, Sylvia Plath and more.
  7. com: Rudyard Kipling, Allen Ginsberg and Alfred Lord Tennyson are all featured here.
  8. com: On this site, you can download free poetry ebooks.
  9. Banned Books: Here you can follow links of banned books to their full text online.
  10. World eBook Library: This monstrous collection includes classics, encyclopaedias, children’s books and a lot more.
  11. DailyLit: DailyLit has everything fromMoby Dick to the more recent phenomenon, Skinny Bitch.
  12. A Celebration of Women Writers: The University of Pennsylvania’s page for women writers includes Newbery winners.
  13. Free Online Novels: These novels are fully online and range from romance to religious fiction to historical fiction.
  14. net: Download mysteries and other books for your iPhone or eBook reader here.
  15. Authorama: Books here are pulled from Google Books and more. You’ll find history books, novels and more.
  16. Prize-winning books online: Use this directory to connect to full-text copies of Newbery winners, Nobel Prize winners and Pulitzer winners.

 

Conquering Mount To-Be-Read: A New Year Challenge

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Starting the new year with a mountain of books to read? You’re not alone

It’s no doubt advice that you’ve heard time and time again, but it’s good advice – in order to be a better writer, you have to be a great reader. In the quest to read as widely and prolifically as possible, it’s inevitable that you’ll pick up lots of wonderful books. It’s even more inevitable that at least half of them will gather dust on shelves and in piles in bedrooms, living rooms, attics and garages. Alas, the curse of the bibliophile writer (is there any other kind?) is the to-be-read pile of shame.

Your TBR pile grows quicker than you realise – doubly so if you’re an ebook-a-holic like me. A new awards list comes out, so you pick up a few titles – they have to be good, right? A friend reminds you of a series that you’d been meaning to check out in a while, so that’s another set on the shelf. Amazon’s always got a sale on Kindle books, Humble are doing a new bundle of rare and unseen Neil Gaiman texts, and before you know it, you’re drowning in pages with more and more being added to the vast, wordy sea.

This Christmas, my bookcase reached its limit and became a health and safety nightmare, so I decided that something needed to be done. After scouring the web for a solution, I stumbled upon my potential salvation – the Mount TBR reading challenge, created by literary blog My Reader’s Block.

The aim of the game is to try and conquer that toppling to-be-read pile by choosing a target number of books to read throughout the year, with tiers named for mountains of differing heights. In my case, I’ve chosen Mount Blanc, partially because of the Shelley reference, and also because it equates to knocking a conservative 24 books off the list. It doesn’t seem like many, but that’s at least two books a month, and not an easy feat when you read whacking great sci-fi tomes like I do. However, with a bit of careful planning – a hastily scribbled list of all the physical books I have left to read, and a promise to take my Kindle on the bus to work instead of my 3DS – it’s a positively achievable goal.

There aren’t many rules in the Mount TBR challenge, except that the books must be ones you own (and surely that’s the point of doing the challenge), and, if you’re really not feeling a book, you have to give it a chance and get through a good portion of it before you can call it quits and knock it off the list. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can always scale your pledge up to conquer even more of the pile of shame. However, in the true spirit of competition, you can’t scale that number down. Come on, it’s meant to be a challenge after all!

As well as alleviating some of my reader’s guilt for leaving books on the shelf for so long, I’m excited by the fact that I’ll be reading loads of new stories. Already, I’ve knocked The Autobiography of James T. Kirk and Paul Cornell’s The Lost Child of Lychford off my list, but I’ve got some Annie Proulx on there that’s been languishing in the pile for several months. On my Kindle, there’s a T.C. Boyle novel that I bought during my MA that remains untouched, and there are even books that I bought in sales six years ago lurking on there. I’m hoping that at least a few of those will make the cut as I attempt to hit my target.

Although climbing the mountain and cutting down the list is its own reward, I’m hoping that the challenge will stretch me even further and encourage my writing output to grow this year. Getting off the computer and going analogue a bit more, diving into new and different worlds, should in theory encourage me to keep on creating my own. So with cup of coffee in hand and blanket in easy reach, I’ve started my ascent up the formidable Mount TBR. What are you waiting for?

About the author of this post

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Robyn Hardman is a writer, blogger and a PR and marketing consultant based in the Cotswolds. When she’s not writing press releases about silly cars, she’s usually in the pit at your local punk show. She tweets as @twobeatsoff.

In praise of sincerity and emotion in comedy

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Stewart Lee and Daniel Kitson – artistes in their own right                     

Everybody who’s spoken to me for more than about ten minutes about comedy and probably anybody who’s seen my act will know I’m a huge Stewart Lee fan. Though he wasn’t the first comedian that I loved – that would be Eddie Izzard – he was the comedian that made me a fan ofstand-up comedy as an art-form.

Stewart Lee views stand-up comedy as art. His is not an unusual view-point, especially amongst the UK alternative. There’s a great bit from Simon Munnery about his annoyance about being reviewed “as the closest comedy gets to art” that perfectly describes the frustration stand-ups feel about how our craft is viewed.

Not all stand-up has to be art, of course. Michael McIntyre isn’t an artist. I doubt he wants to be. That’s not a criticism, if you were to decry everything that doesn’t attempt to be art and isn’t, you’d spend a lot of time walking down the street declaring road signs shit. McIntyre is entertainment, and that’s fine.

In contrast, Stewart Lee views what he does as art and his work should be judged as such.

The entirety of a stand-up comedian’s art is contained within the presentation of their onstage character. The show I consider Stew’s best, 90s Comedian, represents his attempt to present an argument regarding religious censorship of art. There are other themes too, and Stew handily sums up the aims and ideas of the show at the end, so that the audience know that they’ve seen some art.

Though 90s Comedian is based on Stew’s life, the character he presents on stage is relatively distant from his real person. Though, inevitably, the ideas and opinions in the show are all his own, for its success it’s important that the audience understands the figure on stage is an artificial construct. tThey’re meant to doubt him. In much of his later work, such as in the latest series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle where he attacks Graham Norton for winning a Bafta, the joke (and therefore the artistic merit) is found in the gap between Stewart Lee the Comedian and Stewart Lee the actual real person. Of course Stewart Lee isn’t really angry at Graham Norton; his onstage character is. As such the material is a comment on fame and failure; on arrogance. For us to understand the point  he’s making, we need to understand this dissonance, that an artistic comment is being made, otherwise it’s just a badly ageing man airing his own bitterness.

This distance from his own material makes Stew a somewhat cold figure on stage. There’s not a lot of warmth or genuine feeling to be found in his work. Every joke, or story told, is in some way an attempt to further the message of the piece. There’s never really a sense that the audience is being brought into his world sincerely. It’s as if a novel is being presented on stage, a monolithic block of ‘art’.

Recently I’ve been watching and listening to a lot of Daniel Kitson’s shows. I’ve said before that Kitson is the greatest living stand up and my certainty of this has only increased as I’ve delved deeper into his available catalogue.

There’s a lot of reasons I think this is true. Firstly, Kitson is one of the most naturally funny people alive. When he’s onstage there’s always a sense that he could make the entire audience laugh uproariously whenever he wanted to. That any quieter moments are entirely intentional, any time he’s not making an audience laugh must therefore be a moment of great wisdom.

Secondly, he has a fantastically unique and clever way of expressing his ideas. In the last blog I wrote for Nothing in the Rule book I used a quote of his that better expressed the point I was struggling to make over a thousand words, in a few sentences.

Thirdly, I think his shows are some of the best sincere investigation of an artist’s own character that I’ve found anywhere.

(The best place to investigate Kitson’s work is either live (difficult to get tickets) or the full audio recordings he’s posted of a few of his shows on Bandcamp. Many people have watched his three five minute videos on youtube and gone away wondering what all the fuss was about; the equivalent of just looking at the top left corner of Rain, Steam, Speed and declaring that “Turner cannot paint”)

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Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed. 

Kitson’s shows are often introspective affairs, evaluations of his own character. His stances on issues. Though of course Kitson is a character on stage – every comedian is, to a degree – there’s never the sense of the remove that we get from Stewart Lee’s work. We become intimately involved with Kitson’s character, we understand him as a man. Kitson discusses big ideas intelligently, but all of the themes of the shows are born from his own character. In After the Beginning, Before the End Kitson presents us with the idea that we can truly understand our own character by telling us about his own life, and how he and others have perceived his personality. The audience thus come away from Kitson’s show with a portrait of a man, rather than of a cold, distant, concept..

I’m being unfair on Stewart Lee here, who does at times give a far better investigation of his own character than I’ve given him credit for and I’m largely using him as a comparison because I believe that he is the only “artistic” comedian that non-comedy nerds will be aware of.

However, I feel that Kitson’s looser more personal approach better uses stand-up comedy’s strengths. Other art forms, including books, paintings, films, and so on, are always presented to the audience with what one might call a remove, be it through the conduit of a page, as in poetry and literature, or actors, in theatre. Even performance poetry could, ultimately, be performed to an empty room to much the same effect. Only stand up, performed live, presents itself as a direct conversation with the audience. While this conversation may not be participatory, with the audience strongly encouraged to remain silent, their laughter is an intrinsic part of the performance. The comedian is directly before them, usually alone on stage with a microphone. Surely there is no better medium to present a truth about oneself?

Kitson understands this better than most. Even in his most reflective shows he often breaks a monologue to talk to a member of the audience, who may be doing something interesting (like eating food out of a tupperware). This makes his performance feel more alive, more involved, compared to Stewart Lee, who’s interaction is largely limited to audience evaluation (you can see this in the below youtube clip), which, while often hilarious and brilliant, feels much more stage managed, with the quieter reactions to jokes clearly deliberately solicited.

Kitson’s sheer natural ability to be funny on demand allows his shows to maintain this personal, sincere feel throughout. Other comedians talk about having to break character, or shift their status, in order to deal with hecklers, but Kitson never really does. Of course, he might need to shift from introspective to brutally insulting, but because he lacks a theatrical remove from the audience, this feels much more natural than with other comedians.

It’s easy to identify with Kitson, not in the observation “don’t we all do this funny thing with our dishwashers” way, but as a person. He’s widely known as a recluse, often discussed as an elusive enigma, but having watched him perform around five times and listened to hours of other recorded material I feel I know him far better than other acts and that’s not just due to familiarly. Kitson’s wide-eyed earnestness, his joyful sentimentality, all come across well in his work.

In other art forms sentimentality often comes across feeling fake and artificial, as if the writer is attempting to make us feel things for their own sake. When Love Actually attempts to tug at my heartstrings I can actively feel myself resisting; it’s trying too hard. The same is true with better films than Love Actually (which is to say most films), there’s just too much artifice for the emotion, the story, to ever feel quite real. With Kitson, and other similar stand-ups, it’s all coming directly from the horses mouth, how can it be artificial if it’s what the person on stage is actually feeling?

A lot of this might feel obvious to more seasoned comedy fans and I’d also like to say that by no means do I believe that Kitson is the only comedian capable of effectively performing in this way, as there are tonnes of comics doing brilliant shows using their own character to say something broader about humanity.

Of course, it’s also important to remember that, while stand-up can say these real, important things and evoke real emotions in the audience, comedians themselves are by no means truthful. I imagine tonnes of Kitson’s shows are chockablock with lies.

It’s just easy to feel that comedy is under-appreciated as an artform, with the lighter entertainment side of the industry over-shining the more sensitive artistic side to the extent that it gets forgotten. There’s room for both; it’s just a shame that in ‘mainstream discourse’, stand-up still does not get the respect it deserves.

About the author of this post

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Daniel Offen is an aspiring comedian and writer. He has written four jokes and half a book. He assures us he is capable of all of the usual thoughts and emotions of an unusual twenty five year old man and will talk about them at length. He deals primarily in irony and whimsy. He tweets as @danieloffen.

 

 

How to tell if you’re reading good writing – David Foster Wallace on books, arguments and how to write a good opening sentence

 

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Once described by John Updike as “just a penis with a thesaurus”, David Foster Wallace has become a quasi-mythical figure in the literary world. The author, essayist and former teacher who told his students “The whole thing [literature] gets very complicated and abstract and hard”, continues to provide inspiration and guidance to book lovers and aspiring writers.

This guidance ranges from the spiritual:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

Through to the practical:

“Get a usage dictionary… you need a usage dictionary, you have to be paying a level of attention to your own writing that very few people are doing… A usage dictionary is [like] a linguistic hard drive… For me the big trio is a big dictionary, a usage dictionary, and a thesaurus.”

In so many of Wallace’s words and ideas there is a clear expression of the relationship between the author and language itself – what it means to write, how one should go about the task of writing, and what the writing your produce reflects about your own psychology, and how it helps you to become who you are.

If you’re in need of a further fix of David Foster Wallace inspiration, we’ve brought you some of our favourite excerpts from the book Quack this way: David Foster Wallace and A. Gardner talk language and writing.

Speaking of books, and the act of reading, Wallace discusses ways you can tell whether what you’re reading is actually any good:

“Reading is a very strange thing. We get talked to about it and talk explicitly about it in first grade and second grade and third grade, and then it all devolves into interpretation. But if you think about what’s going on when you read, you’re processing information at an incredible rate.

One measure of how good the writing is is how little effort it requires for the reader to track what’s going on. For example, I am not an absolute believer in standard punctuation at all times, but one thing that’s often a big shock to my students is that punctuation isn’t merely a matter of pacing or how you would read something out loud. These marks are, in fact, cues to the reader for how very quickly to organize the various phrases and clauses of the sentence so the sentence as a whole makes sense.

[…]

The point where that amount — the amount of time that you’re spending on a sentence, the amount of effort — becomes conscious, when you are conscious that this is hard, is the time when college students’ papers begin getting marked down by the prof.

[…]

One of the things that really good writing does is that it’s able to get across massive amounts of information and various favorable impressions of the communicator with minimal effort on the part of the reader.

That’s why people use terms like flow or effortless to describe writing that they regard as really superb. They’re not saying effortless in terms of it didn’t seem like the writer spent any work. It simply requires no effort to read it — the same way listening to an incredible storyteller talk out loud requires no effort to pay attention. Whereas when you’re bored, you’re conscious of how much effort is required to pay attention.”

A crucial exponent of a good read, Wallace suggests, is a good “opener”. And in his correspondence with Garner he puts down some advice for all aspiring writers on how they should go about writing that often difficult opening sentence:

“A good opener, first and foremost, fails to repel… It’s interesting and engaging. It lays out the terms of the argument, and, in my opinion, should also in some way imply the stakes… If one did it deftly, one could in a one-paragraph opening grab the reader, state the terms of the argument, and state the motivation for the argument. I imagine most good argumentative stuff that I’ve read, you could boil that down to the opener.”

Agreeing with the Aristotelian principles that any good piece of writing should have a beginning, middle and end, Wallace says that while openings can be difficult – it is perhaps the middle that is the toughest nut to crack.

“The middle should work… It lays out the argument in steps, not in a robotic way, but in a way that the reader can tell (a) what the distinct steps or premises of the argument are; and (b), this is the tricky one, how they’re connected to each other. So when I teach nonfiction classes, I spend a disproportionate amount of my time teaching the students how to write transitions, even as simple ones as however and moreover between sentences. Because part of their belief that the reader can somehow read their mind is their failure to see that the reader needs help understanding how two sentences are connected to each other — and also transitions between paragraphs.

[…]

An argumentative writer [should] spend one draft on just the freaking argument, ticking it off like a checklist, and then the real writing part would be weaving it and making the transitions between the parts of the argument — and probably never abandoning the opening, never letting the reader forget what the stakes are here… Never letting the reader think that I’ve lapsed into argument for argument’s sake, but that there’s always a larger, overriding purpose.”

So, saviours of the written word, there you have it! Go out and discover your overriding purposes – and never let them out of your sight!

 

 

2016 – a look back on the year we’ve had

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As we move forward to 2017, please allow us a somewhat self-indulgent post looking back on some of our highlights from the year gone by. After all, 2016 hasn’t been the best year for many around the world – with seismic political events like Brexit and Donald Trump ‘winning’ the US election, along with the continuing breakdown of the natural world and environmental destruction, reiterating the necessity for all progressive, right-minded people to work together to ensure that 2017 – and the years following it – are not as bad as this one.

Without further ado, therefore, here are our Nothing in the Rulebook highlights of 2016.

Our interviews with fantastic creative people around the world

We’ve been running our Creatives in Profile interview series since we first launched the site, and in 2016 we were fortunate enough to interview some truly fascinating – and brilliant – creatives based across the world. From Japan-based author Iain Maloney through Paul M. M. Cooper, the great guys and gals at The Extra Secret Podcast and Pondering Media, to author Julia Forster, it’s been a true honour to speak with creative artists who are truly leading the way in forging new ways of looking at the world through different artistic media. We can’t wait to continue our interview series over the year ahead – so do look out for more creatives in profile!

Stumbling upon some great literary finds

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We’re always on the hunt for artistic delights and creative discoveries, and it has been a great year from that perspective, as we uncovered such literary wonders as John Malkovich reading aloud Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, incredible letters from Charles Bukowski and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the mysterious literary oddity that is the Voynich Manuscript, beat poet legend Alan Ginsberg singing and reading poetry at the University of Warwick, as well as the audio recording of James Baldwin’s fascinating lecture on the real meaning of words and the artist’s struggle for integrity (alongside many others!). We’ll continue our hunt to unearth some of the great literary wonders of the world – and will be sure to bring them right to your computer and smartphone screens when we do.

Bad Sex in Fiction: the connoisseur’s compendium

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One of a number of our articles to go viral in 2016 was our ‘compendium’ of all the extracts from books that won the notorious ‘Bad Sex in Fiction’ award. Featuring spasming muscles, groans, sighs, moans like “police sirens” and “otherwise central zones”, we dug through each of the books that have won the award since it first launched 24 years ago in 1993. It was quite an effort at times; but completely worth it. Do check it out for yourselves, here.

Our first podcast guest appearance

In November, we had the absolute honour to make a guest appearance on the fabulous Extra Secret Podcast in one of their ‘after dark’ episodes. We (that is, Professor Wu and Billy the Echidna) had the chance to talk everything from obscure cult cartoon shows through literature, podcasting, the direction of art and creativity in the digital age, to, of course, Donald Trump – and what his election means for the world. Do check out the podcast online here, and download it via iTunes.

Reviewing some of the finest new books and writing

A real treat for us in 2016 was the opportunity to read and review some truly excellent pieces of writing from both new and established authors. We’re incredibly grateful to the writers and publishing houses who sent us their work – especially since it confirmed for us the fact that there are so many writers out there creating truly exceptional, new and unique pieces of work. Highlights this year include The Waves Burn Bright by Iain Maloney, The Woman in the Water by Will and Sheila Barton, the F(r)iction anthology from Tethered by Letters, What a Way to Go by Julia Forster, Kingdom by Russ Litten, The Inevitable Gift Shop by Will Eaves, and River of Ink by Paul M. M. Cooper.

Welcoming new members to our incredible contributor’s team

Our entire raison d’etre is to build a platform for creative expression – where all artists can come and put their ideas and work across in a safe and supportive space. It’s been truly astounding to see new artists from a multitude of different disciplines join our gang and write countless fantastic articles. So much respect and love for the new contributors to have joined our team this year – Ben Garland, Asim Khan, Robyn Hardman, Josh Spiller, Tom Andrews, Adam Steiner and Eric A Hanson – who join our established team of contributors who have been with us since 2015; Julia Bell, Lola Blake, Rishi Dastidar, Hannah Fairney Jeans, ‘The Goatman’, David Greaves, Iain Maloney, Daniel Offen, Charlotte Salter, Chris Smith, Mark Tomlinson and George Vernon.

You, dear readers!

It should never go without saying that we are nothing without the people who read our work. Without wishing to sound overly sentimental, or start using clichéd song titles and lyrics, everything we do, we do for you. Thank you eternally for your support, and we look forward to many more journeys and adventures with you over 2017! And, if you’re an aspiring creative yourself, do consider making the jump from reader to contributor – get in touch!

 

Until next time, comrades –  Happy New Year!

10 resources for your literary New Year’s Eve celebrations

 

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Parties! The opportunity to kiss strangers! Unrelenting fun and endless bonhomie! It is the last day of the year – a time to remember the year just past, make resolutions, plan for the year ahead and, perhaps, have fun over an alcoholic beverage or two. Fireworks may or may not be involved. Yet so much emphasis is often placed on New Year’s Eve that the night frequently fails to live up to expectations. Indeed, it can often feel quite like mandatory fun – the expectation that you must absolutely have the most wonderful time at all costs, even if it’s cold outside, everyone is at different bars – all of which are overcrowded or fully booked – several people are already arguing with complete strangers and the clothes you’re wearing hardly fit after the overindulgence at Christmas.

Of course, you still want to try to have fun on New Year’s Eve – yet leaving the house almost guarantees you’ll spend at least part of the evening crying drunkenly, shoeless and wondering what the point of anything is. As literary giant W.H. Auden said of New Year’s: “The only way to spend New Year’s Eve is either quietly with friends or in a brothel. Otherwise when the evening ends and people pair off, someone is bound to be left in tears.”

In light of this, and out of a desire not to suggest visiting a brothel, we’ve put together a brief crib sheet of resources you can use to have the perfect literary New Year’s Eve, safe in the comfort of your own home. So, crack out a bottle of something bubbly, and get reading!

  1. Seven short stories by Junot Diaz you can read for free

The recipient of countless honours and accolades, Junot Diaz’s writing has been referred to by critic and playwright Gregg Barrios as “a deft mash up of Dominican history, comics, sci-fi, magic realism and footnotes.” What better way to spend a New Year’s Eve than reading the short stories of a writer whose unique voice, swinging between street slang and profanity to incredibly formal academic prose, gives us lines such as “As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end,” which are surely appropriate for a night of new resolutions and insistent new beginnings.

  1. Bad sex in fiction: the connoisseur’s compendium

Spasming muscles, groans, whispers, licked ears, sweat, bucking, otherwise central zones and bulging trousers. If you’re hoping your New Year’s Eve will feature at least some of the above, you can guarantee it by checking out our collection of all the winning entries of the infamous ‘Bad Sex in Fiction’ award.

  1. Rare audio recording of James Baldwin discussing the real meaning of words and the artist’s struggle for integrity

Who needs the latest pop culture mash ups blaring over speakers in a sweat-drenched club when you can sip a civilized glass of merlot and listen to the smooth, dulcet tones of literary giant James Baldwin giving a lecture on the real meaning of words, and the artist’s struggle for integrity?

  1. 16 short stories by Alice Munro you can read for free

Junot Diaz provided the evening’s early entertainment; now move onto the short stories of Alice Munro – the author described by Jonathan Franzen as having “a strong claim to being the best fiction writer in North America”. 16 of the best short stories by one of the best short story writers.

  1. Hunter S. Thompson’s advice on finding your purpose

As we move through the years, signposted by New Year’s Eve parties and New Year’s Day hangovers, there is a risk that we begin to find ourselves borne along through life via currents not of our choosing. This sensation that we are not quite in control of our destinies – though ultimately still personally responsible for them – can be crippling both mentally and creatively. So, instead of heading out for the annual expensive night out, featuring in all likelihood tears and disappointment (or a brothel, if you follow Auden’s advice), why not take the evening to read some of the finest life advice from one of the finest writers of the 20th century?

  1. One letter from Charles Bukowski that will make you want to quit your job and become a writer

At that time of year when we take stock of where we are in our lives and careers, you may struggle to do better than listen to the words of acclaimed poet Charles Bukowski, as he looks back on what it takes to quit your soul sucking day job and pursue your authorial dreams.

  1. 33 writing competitions for 2017

Now that Charles Bukowski has convinced you to become a writer, put your pen to paper and get your own writing out there. This collection of upcoming writing competitions for the year ahead is as good a place to start as any when looking at places to submit your work. All power to your typewriters!

  1. Raymond Carver reading ‘What we talk about when we talk about love’

After your burst of creativity and writing, settle back down with that glass of port and enjoy the smooth voice of Raymond Carver reading his most celebrated short story, ‘What we talk about when we talk about love’. After all, if the holiday season is about anything at all; it’s love.

  1. Living Room Les Mis

The stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless classic, Les Miserables, has been thrilling audiences for decades. Yet going to the theatre is just so darn expensive. Surely there must be a better way to capture the same thrills – the same spills – but without having to spend half your paycheque on seats with an impeded view of the stage? Thanks to the power of Youtube, you can bring this classic of the literary canon to musical life right where you’re sitting (or preferably, up on your feet, singing). And after the bubbly, merlot and port, you’ve probably reached the stage in the evening where it would be rude not to participate musically.

  1. Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the future

It is a little known fact that Kurt Vonnegut, one of the true titans of literature, collaborated with TIME Magazine to write a letter to the future population of Humanity, in the year AD 2088. The purpose of the project was simple: to provide “some words of advice” to those living in 2088”. For our last item needed to make your literary New Year’s Eve a success, it seems pertinent to look forward to the future – not only to our own lives for the year ahead, but to the direction of mankind over the coming years.

Vonnegut’s words of advice are, of course, that trademark and distinctive blend of satire and sincerity, and – at a time when the world increasingly seems destined for catastrophe (what with the election of various demagogues-cum-fascists in major countries around the globe, along with the passing of the carbon threshold, mass extinction of flora and fauna, rising global temperatures and increasing inequality) – it seems we need to revisit Vonnegut’s words now more than ever before.

 

 

 

 

 

Seven short stories by Junot Diaz you can read for free right now

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Since he exploded onto the literary scene in 2007 with the publication of his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz has won countless honours and accolades. Along with the Pulitzer Prize, his novel topped a 2015 literary critics’ list of the best 21st century novels (so far).

Yet there are precious few of Diaz’s novels for book lovers to collect and sink their literary teeth into. His notoriously slow and laborious writing process is, according to the author himself, because he is his own worst critic, describing this as “a character defect”, which leads to him finding the actual act of writing “miserable”.

The pain that goes into his writing, however, may be what makes his works such a treat to read. The voices of Diaz’s narrative recall and reference countless cultural touchstones, from pop music and hip hop through historic and quasi-mythological allusions, through to the world of science fiction, gaming and comic books.

Described as “a nerdy New World Joyce” by some critics, Diaz’s swirling references in his writing have been referred to by critic and playwright Gregg Barrios as “a deft mash-up of Dominican history, comics, sci-fi, magic realism and footnotes” – all achieved through a unique voice that swings from street slang and profanity to incredibly formal academic prose.

So, while there may not be so many novels of his you can read, we’ve tried to collect together as many of his short stories as possible – so you can get your needed dose of Diaz. Below are links to seven of his stories that are available for free online, in both text and audio. Enjoy, comrades!

  • “How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)” (textaudio)
  • “Miss Lora” * (The New Yorker, April 2012—text)
  • “The Pura Principle” * (The New Yorker, March 2010—text)
  • “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” * (The New Yorker, July 2012—textaudio)
  • “Monstro” (The New Yorker, June 2012—text)
  • “Wildwood” (The New Yorker, June 2007—text)
  • “Alma” * (The New Yorker, December 2007—textaudio)