Sunday, 30 September 2012

Sunday Morning Musing: Great Literature


'Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.'
                                                                                                                                   - Ezra Pound 

Literature. It's such a heavy term in a way. An intimidating term. A posh term. It sounds just a bit too fanciful for everyday speech. When people ask you what type of books do you read, would your answer really be 'literature'? Maybe if you were an Oxford don or a professor...

But after coming across this quote last week, I'd consider it. It's so hard to explain sometimes to people in a brief moment what good books really are. What they consist of. The effect they have. But here, Ezra Pound sums it up quite neatly: 'language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.'  That simple. That precise.

So yes, I like to read literature, great literature (which can come in a grand variety of styles - it's not just the classics in Penguin!). Because I like to read books that mean something. That have something to say on life. That are well written. I don't read solely for entertainment value, for a good 'yarn,' for sheer escapism, for a suspenseful thrill. 

I read to learn more about life, to see all the aspects of it explored in print. And for books to do that, their language must be something more than functional: it must be infused with meaning, with depth, with implications. It is not difficult language, it is loaded. Therefore it may take more time to read than your bestselling blockbuster thriller or chick-lit. But the reward is all the greater. 

You'll come away from the book with life (sometimes appearing meaningless) charged  with more meaning than ever.

If you're going to read anything, you may as well read the best - and that's literature. How will you know? If the story stays with you, yes. If it says something grand about life. If its effect is long-lasting and all-consuming.  

But mostly, if the book's language offers wisdom and insight and in the space of a few sentences, makes you swoon at the beauty and simplicity and truth of its words, at the complexity it reveals in such an easy manner, one that settles in the mind and heart alike. And if the charge of those words, the meaning, infuses your whole being with a rich valuable knowledge and enlightenment about who we are and why we are and makes you look once again at this strange world of ours with the appropriate curiousity, awe, admiration, enthusiasm and gratitude. 

Then that's great literature.

~ Siobhán


Monday, 24 September 2012

The Wrath of Critics

Everyone has their critics, if not in their profession, in their lives.  'Haters gonna hate.'

Writers though especially, get a lot of flak from critics. Who was it said that critics are mere frustrated artists who vent all their pent-up creative frustration at those who are daring to be creative? Something along the lines of 'if you can, do, and if you can't - criticise.' Just as in life, those who don't chose 'to do' like nothing better than criticising those who are doing.

Now, I don't mean constructive criticism. Constructive criticism - i.e. helpful feedback about a piece of work - is welcomed by writers. It helps us improve upon our work. And it's good to get another's perspective on our closed-doors work. But at the same time, when it comes down to it, a piece of writing is a sole production. We keep our readers in mind sure, but we don't write to the critics' crack of the whip.

Purely negative feedback is bad (and I can't say that I've ever experienced it in this form), but what is worse is no feedback except the bad kind. Regretfully, I have experienced this. I've had the unfortunateness of perceiving a negative pattern when it comes to criticism. People who never say anything about my work will pipe up if they see anything 'wrong' with it. Hundreds of blog posts and articles and poems go by their eyes with no response whatsoever, except that is, if they notice a typo, a wrong date, a shaky fact, a grammar mistake, or a general disgruntlement with the subject matter. Yes siree. They speak out then, and only then, to chastise, correct, complain. That's a tad snide don't you think? I certainly do! 

But on the other hand, I've had plenty of good constructive criticism to boot this experience away. I just find it curious how people have no hesitation in pointing out the negative aspects, but when it comes to positive, they remain tight-lipped.  Both in writing life and real life. I'm sure you all have experienced this too no doubt? Oh 'tis a competitive world we live in, and with critics and cynics waiting at every corner, the way is a challenging one.  But it's not enough to deter us.

As it seems writers, and all creatives, don't have much time for critics, judging by the quotes below anyway. And I most admire their defiant indifferent attitude. Here's to not caring about critics - good or bad!

~ Siobhán


'Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.'  ~Aristotle

'Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man's growth without destroying his roots.' ~Frank A Clark

'The artist doesn't have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don't have time to read reviews.' ~William Faulkner

Pay no attention to what the critics say. A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic.' ~Jean Sibelius

'Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs.' -~John Osborne

'A critic is someone who never actually goes to the battle, yet who afterwards comes out  shooting the wounded.'  ~Tyne Daly

'Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain - and most fools do.' ~Dale Carnegie

'Having the critics praise you is like the hangman say you've got a pretty neck.' ~Eli Wallach

'Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.' ~Kurt Vonnegut

You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.
~John Wooden
'You can disagree without being disagreeable.'~Zig Ziglar

'I would rather be attacked than unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an author is to be silent as to his works. An assault upon a town is a bad thing; but starving it is still worse.' ~Samuel Johnson

'Why is it that we only seem to believe the negative things people say about us, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary? ...Odd, but when it comes to life and love, why do we believe our worst reviews? The truth is, at any given moment someone somewhere could be making a face about you. But it's the reviews you give yourself that matter.' ~Carrie, Sex and the City

And finally, yes, to live is to garner criticism! Infact, it could be seen as proof of pulse: 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Sunday Morning Musing: Occupational Escapism

Oh yes... How true this is!

Writers write anywhere. Including in their head. Plotting, planning, penning airborne phrases. At any given notice. While eating dinner, walking, or most frequently - in the middle of talking to other people.

When the Muse beckons, we must follow. 

Please forgive us. We don't mean to be rude! It's just an occupational quirk. And not a passive daydreamy escapism, but an active working one.  Which can yield the best kind of results!

~ Siobhán

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A Font of One's Own

Minor it may be, but what's this new fascination with fonts all of a sudden in the book world? 

A few books I noticed lately have a note on the font used - a short explanation of why the author has chosen the specific font used. 

The book I'm reading at the moment, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker has such a note - The book was set in Transitional 521, a Bitstream version of Calledonia, designed by William A. Dwiggins in 1938. He descibed the face as having "something of that simple, hard-working, feet-on-the-ground quality" as well as a "liveliness of action." I'm thinking she chose it for the implications of its name, seeing since the theme of the novel is transition. Maybe it's a case of matching your font to your theme?

Also, The Song of Achilles which I mentioned previously here has a quite lengthy 'Note on the Type' at the end of the book,  going into the history of its chosen font - Baskerville - and a detailed analysis of its physical stylistics. But no reason as to why it was used. Which got me to thinking - what is the point of such notes on font? Is it a new publishing necessity? The beginning of a new trend?

Have any other readers out there come across this? 

And I wonder about E-readers. Do they display all the different fonts of different books? Or is it one-font-fits-all for digital readers? Oh, I don't think I'd like that. Because I suppose the font of a book characterises it in some way.

Notice how all the classics have that dense dark tightly-packed font which seems to deem them as old before they even begin? And the new modern Penguin classics have quite a 'classic' font, immortalising the stories in a print that screams of literary sophistication and a suave coolness that entices you to read them. 

Yes, it's not just the cover of the book that entices you to read it anymore - but the inside print style. Imagine that!

But on a personal typing note, I suppose every one of us has our personal favourites. I use Georgia for these posts. Why? Hmm, because it was the best that Blogger had to offer..? I suppose I just like it. I like the slight curvature of the letters, the neat structure of them, the medium pleasant plumpness of its characters. And  because it didn't seem so stiff and formal. 

Like Times New Roman for example. I'll never forget at a writing workshop once, one of my classmates reading out a short story about a student who mentioned that they hated the 'clinical starchy feel' of Times New Roman. That it was restrictive of creativity. Ha! But yes, I would have to agree there. It feels too formal and timid - too much the font of college essays and formal letters and perfectly proofread prognosis.

Then there was the Comic Sans phase I went through. It was the preferred font of my teaching and tutoring notes. Because it seemed clear and explanatory and easy to digest, a veritable casual and friendly sort of font that I hoped suited my casual and friendly and explanatory teaching/tutoring style. But I soon realised it seemed too notes-y and too immature for anything other than teaching materials. (This was confirmed for me when I recently saw a post on Facebook ridiculing a Comic Sans printed poster in an office - saying it should be kept in the classroom! More suitable for ABCs than memos. )

See, a font can say a lot about the nature of what is written in it. 

And from what I've seen of writing workshops and meetings, every writer has their own preferred font, and to write in another one, just wouldn't feel right. My own preferred writing font (for poetry and prose) is Garamond. I like the old-style bookish feel of it. I couldn't write a poem in anything else, no siree. My poems demand it! Tempus Sans? Too weak and wobbly and whimsical.  Verdana? Too plain and scientific- like. For facts only. Or business presentations.

For articles, I prefer something more straight-up, more clear and precise like Calibri. Or sometimes, if I'm in a real 'writer' mood -  Courier Sans. It has all the drama and tension of journalism and wide-spaced urgency of real key-thudding type or a telegram's frantic stop-stop print.

Strange isn't it, this font obsession? In the days of handwritten manuscripts (which some writers still prefer) there was no such decisions or preferences.  But then our handwriting took care of all that. It says a lot about us too. And I suppose fonts are just an extension of this. Just look at the many fonts that mimic handwriting: Monotype corsiva, lucida handwriting and the title of this blog, Homemade Apple (which I can't replicate here darn it! But you can just glance up and see it.)

What about you? What's your preferred font? Do tell! And better still, for what reasons? It may prove handy to know in the case of having your book published and wanting to put that personal touch on the script, as seems most en-vogue at the minute. 

Well for now I'm signing off in a quite posh Lucida Calligraphy  - and off to Word to doodle in a grand variety of fonts... 

How far the quill and ink has come!

~ Siobhán