Did you know Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem “The Raven” was almost “The Parrot”?
Check out my second article on The Millions, “The Mathematical Poet: Exploring Edgar Allan Poe’s Logical Imagination” to find out why he wisely went with a raven instead, learn about Poe’s uniquely scientific approach to literature, discover what’s so inspiring about his essay, “The Philosophy of Composition,” and much, much more.
Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is so famous that you probably know about it even if you haven’t read it. But if you haven’t heard of it, it won’t take long to summarize because, frankly, very little happens. For about six pages, men, women, and children in an unnamed village gather together and make small talk while taking out pieces of paper from inside an old box. Though we don’t know what this lottery is all about, there is a mounting sense of dread until we learn that the “winner” – the person who pulled out the only piece of paper with a black spot on it – earns the right to be stoned to death.
Continue reading “Modern Parable: The Cost of Blind Obedience in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery””
There are a lot of great writers out there, but it’s a rare writer who manages to create an entire universe through their books. Franz Kafka is one of them. Someone (I unfortunately forget who…maybe Jorge Luis Borges?) once said Kafka’s books “take place in infinity,” and I’ve never heard a more perfect description of the surreal worlds his stories take place in. For instance, when you read The Castle, it’s easy to believe there’s nothing beyond the wintry village that K. finds himself in.
But I’m not here to take about Kafka. Rather, I want to tell you about another writer whose books evoke a haunting, fairy tale-esque world that feels both realistic and strangely timeless. That writer is Tarjei Vesaas of Norway.
Having read four of his novels, I feel confident saying there is a fundamental formula to all his plots, which is this – a stranger enters a community and all hell breaks loose. That might sound simplistic, but The Seed, The Bridges, The Ice Palace, and The Birds all follow that formula more or less, and that’s part of what makes them all so powerful. Vesaas’ worlds feel isolated and innocent, unblemished Edens that are ruined when a force intrudes from the outside. That force might come in the form of a monster or a child, but nevertheless, paradise always descends into pandemonium.
Continue reading “Lost Paradises: The Haunting Novels of Tarjei Vesaas”
One of the most invigorating benefits of reading is the feeling when you find a new author or subject. Sometimes you’ll stumble on him or her while browsing a bookstore or library, or perhaps Amazon will use an uncannily (and borderline unsettlingly) accurate algorithm to suggest something you’ll like.
The problem, though, is that it can be hard to find authors or subjects that are way outside your typical reading comfort zone. That happens rarely on websites, since their algorithms are meant to suggest things you will like by design, as opposed to things you may like. That’s why browsing through books in a physical store is always a better option, but even then there’s a problem – namely, with so many books out there, how do you know which ones are good?
Well, I’m here to help by suggesting six publishers whose books I guarantee will significantly widen your reading tastes and make you stronger reader. You may not like everything these publishers release, but if you want to avoid getting stuck reading the same kinds of stories by the same kinds of authors, you can do no better than check out books published by NYRB Classics, Verba Mundi, Archipelago Books, Pushkin Press, Other Press, and Dalkey Archive.
Continue reading “Breaking Through Your Reading Comfort Zone: Six Publishers You Need To Know”
The title of this post pretty much says it all, but in case I’m still not being clear enough, I got my first article published by a literary website, The Millions! It’s about Dostoevsky’s career pre-Siberia (when his books were just bleak as opposed to really bleak).
Thanks to all of you who have already read it and for being such loyal readers of this site. Partly due to that article, and partly for other reasons, it’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog. But I’m committing myself to publishing a post at least once a week from now on. And I firmly intend to keep that commitment until I no longer keep that commitment.
In my last post, I discussed two of the four roles Simone Weil played in her life. I should note that she didn’t act out these roles one after the other. True, she had already been teaching for many years when she started working at factories, but she continued to teach whenever she could. In fact, one of the most amazing things about Weil’s life – besides the fact that she crammed in more activity in a little over thirty years than most of us do in our entire lives – is that she never moved on from doing one thing to another. She simply did more and more and more and more.
But there is certainly an evolution in her thinking, which I would divide into her philosophical and mystic years.
Continue reading “The Vastness of Simone Weil – Part 2: Philosopher and Mystic”
I’m wary of calling Simone Weil a role model, since I don’t think anyone should have role models. I think idolizing anyone is dangerous, if only because it makes it all that much more difficult to become an individual. The other problem is that however much we may want to emulate a person, there are always aspects of that same person we’ll disagree with.
This is how I see Weil – someone with qualities I both deeply respect and with whom I adamantly disagree. However, as Francine de Plessix Gray makes clear in her biography, Simone Weil, this was a passionate woman who was uncompromising in her values yet continually open to intellectual evolution. All of these qualities are evident in the four distinct roles she played in life and, for that alone, I want to argue that she deserves our admiration, if nothing else.
Continue reading “The Vastness of Simone Weil – Part 1: Teacher and Activist”
I can only think of three texts I’ve ever read more than once, and one of them is Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh.
This play centers around a dozen or so people who hang around a bar all day, obsessing over their pipe dreams. They are all sure that their lives are going to change as soon they actually take action…tomorrow. But of course, tomorrow never comes (one character later literally says, “Don’t you see, there is no tomorrow!” long before Apollo Creed shouted those words at Rocky Balboa in Rocky III). In fact, one of the characters is nicknamed Johnny Tomorrow, although the nickname could apply to any of them. But their pleasant delusions are shattered when an old friend named Hickey, who previously was just like them, returns a changed man. He actually has changed his life, but not by fulfilling his pipe dream. No, he’s abandoned all hope in his pipe dream and sees that it has only ever held him back. And he’s eager to bring the same peace he feels now to all his friends.
But O’Neill understands that you can dream away life for so long that you forget how to live. More than that, you might find dreaming life is much more fulfilling than living it, especially when dreaming is all you have.
Continue reading “What Dreams May (Never ) Come: Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh”
That’s right – after a whole day of unbearable suspense, the course is now up, as promised!
Click here to get to the page or just use the link on the homepage.
(As for the nonfiction recommended reading list, that should go up in early May, after I write a few more blog posts)
Great News! I’ve compiled an obnoxiously long list of recommended books divided into fiction and nonfiction just for YOU…and anyone else who reads this post!
For fiction, I included novels, plays, short stories, poetry, epics, graphic novels, and more. I decided not to divide all of them by category, though, since there are times when it’s hard to categorize a text and frankly, I don’t want to deal with that. Instead, I’ve divided all of these types of fiction by country – my hope is that if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I’ve always wanted to read something from X,” now you have a place to start. And by the way, the texts are divided by country based on where the author was born – NOT where they moved to later on.
The nonfiction list is still to come, but it’ll be divided into categories, including: history, philosophy, politics, psychology, physics, logic, literary essays, biographies, and maybe more.
But the thing you’re really going to want to check out is the soon-to-be-released Matt’s Super Secret Elite Reading Course.
Continue reading “Rejoice! Matt’s Super Secret Elite Reading Course and More”