The Digital vs. The Real

Kindle 2 supported by the Yale Shakespeare.

As an ambitious bibliophile, it’s important to have excellent editions of excellent books; as a poor bibliophile, it’s important to get them cheap. You might think: ebooks—ebooks are the answer.

I understand and respect their benefits—I own a kindle—but, to me, physical books are a value. I don’t see anyone in the future passing down ebook files to the coming generations, nor popular ebook readers as heirlooms. In five years my Kindle, as well as any curent ebook reader, will be outdated and irrelevant—most likely broken.

A physical book will likely not become outdated or lose value. In fact, as books get older and rarer, their prices tend to increase. That’s why a first edition of The Hobbit can go for thousands.

So, what would you say is a better investment: spending $150 on an  ebook reader, or $150 on quality editions?

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A Pen for a Poet

Art thou a pen, whose task shall be
To drown in ink what writers think?
Oh, wisely write, that pages white
Be not the worse for ink and thee.
Ethelinda Eliot

 

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Everyman’s Library

From top to bottom: Poems by Robert Frost, Poems by Robert Burns, Poems by Alfred Tennyson, Complete Stories by Edgar Allan Poe, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and other Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Everyman’s Library is probably my favorite edition of any classic work. They’re relatively cheap, and their quality adds a lot to the reading experience. I highly recommend them to any bibliophile, book-collector, or reader of classical literature. And if you’re neither of these, I recommend you buy a copy of a Dickens’ novel, because, at the moment, you’re really missing out.

Everyman, I will go with thee
and be thy guide,
In thy most need
to go by thy side.

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Two Books and Their Pillars

Two of these books I am currently reading. They stand on my bed mantle, supported between Aesop’s resting Hare and the victorious Tortoise. I put these books there, for there they are easily reached in the darkening hours of these early winter evenings. One book was a Christmas gift just received Sunday; the other a large piece of classical literature I’ve long owned.

The first: The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman, concerning eight specific ways to bring fiction to life. If you write fiction, read this book. If you do not write fiction, I recommend you obtain a copy, and learn something of the art.

The second book: Bleak House by Charles Dickens, a 1088 page novel. I do not stress the length since it’s hardly noticeable while reading: Bleak House truly is a page turner. But if you’ve ever seen the list of characters, you will know it is not a book to read intermittently. (I urge you to, right now, look at Bleak House in Wikipedia, and at the character list). On the contrary, it’s a book to be read—like the victorious Tortoise it leans upon—slow and surely till the end.

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Three Ways To Dramatically Improve Your Writing

1. Write. I don’t have to tell the aspiring writer to write; he already knows to and wants to. That’s because he knows the only way to become better at something, is to practice. Familiarize yourself with your vocabulary, and write everyday to improve.

A. Practice with exercises. To keep in shape, an athlete must exercise his body. To keep in shape, a writer must do the same, except with his writing skill and creativity. Here’s an exercise for you to try: find an object in your house to describe, but do not flatly or blatantly note its color, shape, or size. (“It was a grey, oddly warped  sphere, as small as a golf-ball”). But instead observe something about this object with a unique perspective. Once you’ve written a description, create a story about this object, but this time without using description. When you’re finished, compare the story with the description, noting any changes of style or inconsistency of perspective.

 

2. Observe.  Stories are about people and characters, and a story cannot be believed if the characters are not believable. Observe people. Observe their emotions. We can tell a person’s emotion by looking at them, and hearing them. If they’re sad, we can usually tell without them telling us so. We know if they’re happy, by looking at them, and hearing them. Why is this? It’s because they act in some way, do some slight gesture that we catch subconsciously. Become aware of these gestures, because they are important in writing—fiction or non-fiction—to communicate to the reader, with minute detail, the emotion of the character. If they are sad, we cannot simply say “she cried,” or “she sobbed.” Or if they are angry, we cannot simply add an exclamation mark, or an expletive, or a “he said furiously,” to dialogue and dialogue-tags. But, of course, a large part of emotion is channeled through speech, and so we cannot ignore how people talk and communicate. They do show their emotion in speech and dialogue, equally as they do in gestures and actions; but their gestures and actions cannot contradict the emotion of their speech…writing is truly an art of minute detail.

 

3. Read. Out of these three this is paramount. It’s even more important than practicing writing because not all practice is good practice, as has been said before. A writer must observe how to write well from great writers in order to practice well. Take a break from writing some day, and spend a week or month just reading. Read as much as you can, absorb as much as you can, and learn as much as you can. You’ll be surprised when you sit down to write again, and words will flow easier than ever. Cease reading, however, and your writing will wither and die into the nothingness out of which you created it. Though writers create out of nothing, they still must have a foundation on which to create, and literature is the greatest foundation. In order to do something well, you must first observe it done well in literature over and over and again, until it overflows from you and onto those microscopic pixels—that is our paper and ink.

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Nine Guidelines to Writing

Here are 9 rules—or guidelines rather—for writing, with here and there a commentary:

1. A writer’s workspace must always be absent of distractions (save perhaps a mug of coffee or tea). Distractions chip away from good writing. Keep the internet turned off. At times I keep it on to research quickly and easily. My better writing, though, happens while the wi-fi is shut off. This is because one idea leads to the next, and this distraction constantly knocks me off track. (Facebook has nothing to do with it)!!

 

2. A writer should write what makes him most uncomfortable or scared; fear can only be felt if written fearfully. Fear that isn’t felt was made up by the writer, and was never truly fear to begin with.

 

3. Writing is the appropriate place for the inappropriate. It’s that teasing insult you held back, the harsh criticism you refrained from……

 

4. Interesting objects make interesting stories. Examples: the One Ring, the Narnian lamp-post, a magic wand……

 

5. With every description, the reader must be enlightened with fresh perspective.

 

6. A character is revealed by their actions, not their appearance. This idea is material for entire posts alone. Think about it this way: if you’re telling your friend about that strange guy you saw at the mall, will you tell how he wore a blue coat, brown pants, and worn down white tennis-shoes? These “description dumps” have no lasting impact on a reader, and give them no lasting image of your character.

 

7. An image is never instant. Be patient. This goes along with guideline #9.

 

8. Dress nicely. When sloppily dressed, good work is never accomplished, for the worker has little respect for it.

 

9. Never use the word “Suddenly”. Never should this word be found in narrative. Take out “suddenly” from your scene: does it have less impact? If it does, this shows you’ve set up the scene poorly, and proves as a symptom of little suspense.

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The Road to Self-Discipline

Each one of us has bad habits. Habits of which we sometimes wonder why they are so hard to avoid; yet while we wonder this, we are completely oblivious that we constantly practice “non-discipline”.

Like self-discipline, non-discipline is a practiced thing. The lack of discipline is practiced over and over again, and with every hour accumulated in practice, we have cultivated many bad habits. This is because not all practice is good.

We practice non-discipline when we help ourselves to an unnecessary serving at mealtimes, or watch one more hour of TV. Through all of these little temptations, we are practicing giving in. So we become experts at giving in to bad habits. Some of us are so good, we do these things subconsciously.

But in order to become good at self-discipline, we have to to practice it. We must focus on littler, smaller disciplines, like what we say, or eat, or what we watch on TV, or the amount of time we spend watching TV. Add some discipline to our life-style that can be practiced in order to cultivate self-control. Over the minutes, turned hours of practice of self-discipline, avoiding bad-habits will become a natural and good habit.

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Of Magic and the Fantastical

Fantasy has now become a most popular génre. Hundreds, it seems, of fantasy books have been published in the past few years; authors now write stories of magic, attempting, in all probability, to follow in the footsteps of the Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and also the more recent children’s series, Harry Potter.

But magic (fictitious magic) has become, over the years, something less. Writers today miss magic’s mystical nature. What is magic? What is the fantastical? In stories now, magic is turned into something learned, and added to it are techniques and, almost, philosophies. It has turned into a fictive science, and what should remain unexplained is (in only attempt) explained. Rules are set, incantations created—both of which limit the possibilities, and the imagination. And this science of magic is weaved so strongly into the plot, that plotholes are inevitable. (See Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2).

Explaining magic defeats its purpose. Magic is the unexplained, is the mystical and mysterious. Since it’s so weaved into the plot, the writer feels compelled to explain it; which in turn destroys its mystical nature.

Also, it is cause for a weak plot. Take Voyage of the Dawn Treader’s most recent movie adaption. Caspian undertakes an oath to rescue the seven lost lords of Narnia, while Dark Island is overtaking the world. The added plot concerns each the Lord’s swords: if collected and laid together on tabletop in the Island of the Star, the evil of Dark Island will vanish completely. True this is magic unexplained, but that means it’s a plot unexplained, and leaves an unsatisfying  ending. The magic shouldn’t be the plot, but instead should simply underly world and story.

Tolkien does this in both The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. Take the Hobbit: magic is included, but hardly affects the plot (the plot is perfectly natural, if accepted that Dragons exist). Take the Lord of the Rings: Gandalf’s fireworks a mystery, his power—not learned—but apart of him and his character; Elves do not even call their power magic. Indeed, magic is only a word used by the Hobbits for something, a power perhaps, they cannot explain.

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The Dead Communicate

Here are two amazing paragraphs, by Arthur Conan Doyle, from his book THROUGH THE MAGIC DOOR:

“I care not how humble your bookshelf may be, nor how lowly the room which it adorns. Close the door of that room behind you, shut off with it all the cares of the outer world, plunge back into the soothing company of the great dead, and then you are through the magic portal into that fair land whither worry and vexation can follow you no more. You have left all that is vulgar and all that is sordid behind you. There stand your noble, silent comrades, waiting in their ranks. Pass your eye down their files. Choose your man. And then you have but to hold up your hand to him and away you go together into dreamland. Surely there would be something eerie about a line of books were it not that familiarity has deadened our sense of it. Each is a mummified soul embalmed in cere-cloth and natron of leather and printer’s ink. Each cover of a true book enfolds the concentrated essence of a man. The personalities of the writers have faded into the thinnest shadows, as their bodies into impalpable dust, yet here are their very spirits at your command. 

“It is our familiarity also which has lessened our perception of the miraculous good fortune which we enjoy. Let us suppose that we were suddenly to learn that Shakespeare had returned to earth, and that he would favour any of us with an hour of his wit and his fancy. How eagerly we would seek him out! And yet we have him—the very best of him—at our elbows from week to week, and hardly trouble ourselves to put out our hands to beckon him down. No matter what mood a man may be in, when once he has passed through the magic door he can summon the world’s greatest to sympathize with him in it. If he be thoughtful, here are the kings of thought. If he be dreamy, here are the masters of fancy. Or is it amusement that he lacks? He can signal to any one of the world’s great story-tellers, and out comes the dead man and holds him enthralled by the hour. The dead are such good company that one may come to think too little of the living. It is a real and a pressing danger with many of us, that we should never find our own thoughts and our own souls, but be ever obsessed by the dead. Yet second-hand romance and second-hand emotion are surely better than the dull, soul-killing monotony which life brings to most of the human race. But best of all when the dead man’s wisdom and strength in the living of our own strenuous days.”

As I thought over this excerpt, I not only found it very true, but also very changing to my perspective—my perspective on reading, mainly. It is true that, while I am reading, the author’s very spirit is communicating to me. In fact, as you read this paragraph now, my spirit is touching upon you. What you see now is not only letters and pixels. Doyle’s spirit is, in a sense, kept alive in those past paragraphs.

Take, for example, instant messaging: when you chat, through Facebook with a friend, what you are reading and responding to isn’t simply letters and words—it is your friend’s very spirit, communicating to yours. This should render a completely different perspective of reading—especially reading the Bible.

Like Doyle said, our familiarity has deadened our senses. Just so with the Bible. Think about this, next time you open it: God’s very spirit is communicating to you, touching you. If you read Philippians, Paul’s spirit touches yours, becomes alive in you; almost as if you have met; almost as if you are talking over Facebook. They exist, they are real, their spirits are alive, and they will never die away, so long as their words survive.

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Errantry by Tolkien

This poem was published by Tolkien in 1933, four years before The Hobbit. It’s a three-page long poem, its meter invented by Tolkien himself. Here’s a verse for an example:

He battled with the Dumbledors,
the Hummerhorns, and Honeybees,
and won the Golden Honeycomb,
and running home on sunny seas,
in ship of leaves and gossamer,
with blossom for a canopy,
he sat and sang, and furbished up,
and burnished up his panoply.

(Picture: Errantry by Alan Lee - Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R.Tolkien, Page 190)

The endings of every-other line rhyme with one another (and I have colored them accordingly), while at the beginning of each following line is a trisyllabic assonance. (Assonance is the refrain of vowel-sounds to create an internal rhyming). This meter was so difficult, Tolkien resolved never again to write another poem of this style—though he did write something of similar style: Eärendil the Mariner. This shows evolution of folk-lore; and you will find many similarities between them if you look.

(I cannot help but think this “Dumbledor” greatly influenced one Harry Potter character. It means “bumblebee,” and has been used only for that character, and in this poem “Errantry.” Also, this is not the only similarity between Harry Potter and Tolkien’s work).

Here, then, is the poem in full:

There was a merry passenger,
a messenger a mariner:
he built a gilded gondola
to wander in and had in her
a load of yellow oranges
and porridge for his provender;
he perfumed her with marjoram,
and cardamom and lavender.

He called the winds of Argosies,
with cargoes in to carry him,
across the rivers seventeen,
that lay between to tarry him.
He landed all in loneliness,
where stonily the pebbles on
the running river Derrilyn,
goes merrily for ever on.
He journeyed then through meadow-lands,
to shadow-land that dreary lay,
and under hill and over hill,
went roving still a weary way.

He sat and sang a melody,
his errantry a tarrying,
he begged a pretty butterfly,
that fluttered by to marry him.
She scorned him and she scoffed at him,
she laughed at him unpitying,
so long he studied wizardry,
and sigaldry and smithying.

He wove a tissue airy thin,
to snare her in; to follow her,
he made him beetle-leatherwing,
and feather wing of swallow hair.

He caught her in bewilderment,
with filament of spider-thread.
He made her soft pavilions,
of lilies and a bridal bed,
of flowers and of thistle-down,
to nestle down and rest her in,
and silken webs of filmy white,
and silver light he dressed her in.

He threaded gems and necklaces,
but recklessly she squandered them,
and fell to bitter quarrelling,
then sorrowing he wandered on,
and there he left her withering
as shivering he fled away;
with windy weather following,
on swallow-wing he sped away.

He passed the achipelagoes,
where yellow grows the marigold,
with countless silver fountains are,
and mountains are of fairy-gold.
He took to war and foraying,
a-harrying beyond the sea,
and roaming over Belmary,
and Thellamie and Fantasie.

He made a shield and morion,
of coral and of ivory.
A sword he made of emerald,
and terrible his rivalry,
with elven knights of Aerie
and Faerie, with paladins
that golden-haired, and shining-eyed
came riding by, and challenged him.

Of crystal was his habergeon,
his scabbard of chalcedony,
with silver tipped and plenilune,
his spear was hewn of ebony.
His javelins of malachite
and stalactite – he brandished them,
and went and fought the dragon flies,
of Paradise, and vanquished them.

He battled with the Dumbledors,
the Hummerhorns, and Honeybees,
and won the Golden Honeycomb,
and running home on sunny seas,
in ship of leaves and gossamer,
with blossom for a canopy,
he sat and sang, and furbished up,
and burnished up his panoply.

He tarried for a little while,
in little isles that lonely lay,
and found their naught but blowing grass.
And so at last, the only way he took, and turned,
and coming home with honeycomb,
to memory his message came,
and errand too!
In derring-do and glamoury,
he had forgot them,
journeying and tourneying, a wanderer.

So now he must depart again,
and start again bis gondola,
for ever still a messenger a passenger, a tarrier,
a roving as a feather does,
a weather-driven mariner.

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