Posted by Joe Harris
Thanks, everyone, for posting your favorites. I look forward to discussing them tonight; they’re both astute and affectionate, and as a group offer a compelling picture of a community of writers at work.
I wanted to add my some of my own favorites to the list. For the most part, I’ve picked passages from recent work, but in a few cases I couldn’t resist noting an earlier piece. I’ve divided my comments into four categories:
- Setting the scene (Dayo, Janet, and Lawson)
- Drawing characters (Carol, Rachel, Eriks, Andrew, and Tim)
- Making connections (Xan, Margrette, Zeewan, Grace)
- Parataxis (Lauren, Erica, Brea)
Thanks once again, everyone, for your work this semester!
PS I also cheated and quoted passages much longer than 50 words.
While much of our talk this semester has focused on how to make prose more intense, paratactic, vivid, to evoke characters and experience, I was also struck by the careful work that often went before such moments, by how writers set the scene for what was to follow.
For instance, near the start of “Skyscrapers and Rice Paddies,” Janet Li does a remarkable job of describing, in plain and precise language, the appeal of a remote Chinese village she visited:
Everything seems so quiet in this village. No running water, no Internet, no cars, no interstate highway system. Yet, this village has put a spell on me. The sun is finally up and my cousins have woken up and prepared breakfast. A few hours later, we all travel to the village market. There are people carrying baskets on their backs, baskets that will become full with all the vegetables and meat they plan to purchase at this market.
Small shops of food, movie rentals, music rentals, and ethnic minority clothes line the sides of the street. We are the Bai ethnic minority. The villagers speak their language, a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, and are using it to communicate now. We like the color white. It is rare these days to find a young woman in the traditional dress, a light colored top garment worn underneath a sleeveless short red jacket and an embroidered apron over blue or white pants. My favorite part of the wear is the exquisitely-embroidered white head ornament that is tied by a single pigtail. I am a little disappointed by the decreasing number of young people wearing the dress, however, the married women walk around the market in traditional dark blue right-side buttoning front vest over a shift and blue loose fitting trousers, an embroidered dark-colored apron, and a black cloth to pack their rolled hair.
Janet contrasts this rural scene with the more cosmopolitan allure of Shanghai in order to discuss, not China, but her responses to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “On Nature” and her own sense of feeling drawn to both city and country. One reason why her piece is so effective is her ability to describe the “country” in ways that are exact, unsentimental, but enormously appealing.
Lawson Kurtz sets a very different sort of scene in “Blackout,” a a critical yet measured essay about the alcohol-fueled culture of Duke and many other universities. Such a piece could easily become preachy, but Lawson works against this with acute, almost clinical, and yet dryly witty description of “the general undergraduate drinking climate,” which he says can be
be summarized using only three words: Get drunk fast (quickly is a word rarely used by the inebriated). The cost- and time efficiency of the techniques utilized by students to get drunk would make an economist smile. Shotgunning, shooting, funneling, keg stands, quarters, beer pong, flip cup, lager bombs, icing, case races… the list goes on. If money is a problem, students find it cheap. If fullness is a problem, they find it potent. If motivation is a problem, they make it competitive. Instead of alcohol functioning as a social lubricant to enhance the social experience of the party, alcohol becomes the party, and attendees become consumed by the culture of consumption. Take a look around West campus on any given Friday night, and your eyes will be graced by a multitude of rowdy students drinking as fast or faster than their bodies allow. It is therefore unsurprising to learn that 40% of these students have reported blacking out within the previous year. While this could possibly be dismissed as an undesirable side effect of otherwise enjoyable alcoholic recreation, it has become increasingly apparent that most don’t actually care about blacking out. For some, a blackout may actually be an intended effect.
In a rather different way, Dayo Oshilaja pauses in the middle of her interview with the articulate and forceful Professor Sandy Darity, of Duke’s School of Public Policy, to examine the effects of their conversation on her and to set up what is to come next (a critique of the idea of “Post-Racial”America and an argument for reparations):
A knock on the door interrupts the flow of our conversation. While Professor Darity is talking with a colleague, I take a deep breath and try and re-group. Throughout our interview my pen has remained frozen in place as I tried to assimilate all the new information. I had never thought of Obama in these terms before. I am un-ashamed to say that back in 2008, I was very much caught up in Obama-mania. I was one of those idealistic college students positive that Obama was going to change the country for the better. I attended his rallies, excitedly hung up his poster on my wall, and proudly wore his stickers to class. I loved to brag to anyone who would listen that I had the opportunity to actually shake his hand when he came to Durham in 2007. But now, Professor Darity was forcing me to look at Obama in a more realistic light. Fortunately for me, I did not have long to reflect; the colleague was gone and the clock was ticking.
This paragraph subtly urges Dayo’s readers to “re-group” and rethink their views along with her. Quietly, the interview starts to become as much an exploration of her thinking as Darity’s.
Posted by Joe Harris
I had never given a profile assignment before this semester, but I now plan to do so regularly. I loved to see writers in this class shift out of a more familiar, introspective essay mode in order to figure out to accurately re-present the thoughts, experiences, and language of other people—often other who were very important to them. I thought the results were often remarkable.
For instance, in “The Christmas Party,” Rachel Revelle describes not only a person (Mrs. Copeland) but a community (Murfreesboro, NC). In doing so, she also tells a lot about herself. Here is part of her portrait:
In the early days she would see people on the street, or the beauty parlor, or Bynum Brown’s Thanksgiving brunch—another tradition for another time—and tell them to “come on by” after church on Christmas Eve. Knowing Mrs. Copeland’s presence around town, and her respected capabilities of small talk, it is no wonder the party grew. “It used to drive William crazy!” she says, referring to her “on the street” invitation system. Nevertheless, it worked for quite a while, until every now and then someone would get overlooked, and she would get into trouble. The solution for the past ten or so years, therefore, has been a mailed invitation, which she currently sends to 90 families, but requires no response. She also makes clear that anyone visiting for Christmas should certainly come along, which means, she says, “We sometimes have no idea who an entire family is until we ask and make the connections.”
I’m struck by how Rachel manages here both to describe the beginnings of her town’s Christmas Party while also offering a sense of the hostess, deftly weaving Mrs. Copeland’s remarks into a quick sketch of local history. It’s not as easy to do as she makes it look!
Similarly, Eriks Reks wanted to recognize the impact of a particular individual has had on his own growth as a person. I admire the risks Eriks takes in his openly affectionate and admiring portrait of “Sonny Falcone: The Herculean Blue Devil.” Here is how he describes one of their first encounters:
From what I understood at the time, Falcone played at Duke roughly around the same time as Zack’s father. So I tagged along over to his house which is perched looking over a lake. I went with a girl who I was seeing at the time. This being my first long period stay in the south, it was also the first time introduced to southern food. The spread was the hallmarks: corn bread, pulled pork, coleslaw, and hush puppies. I was delighted; unfortunately to the dismay of my date who wouldn’t eat anything other than the organic section of Whole Foods. Yet, at that point in time it didn’t really matter what she thought. The storytelling began and I became enthralled in the conversation. I truly did sit in awe, listening to the tales Falcone—both Sonny and Joe, his brother—and Asack told of their old gridiron days. They mentioned the dogs that used to live on campus—very similar to the way the cats do nowadays. They laughed about the things they did on 9th street when they were my age. From this moment, Coach Falcone too became a legend in my eyes.
Sometimes a piece of writing can be a gift to someone else, and I see both Rachel and Eriks as offering such gifts.
Andrew Brown also writes about someone he admires in “The Journeyman,” but moves, I think, in a somewhat different direction, viewing his subject, Mustafa Nassery, as someone who can tells about tensions we are living through. Here is how Andrew begins his profile:
Mustafa Nassery is a messenger. He glides seamlessly between the postmodern intellectualism of college life in the United States, and the ancient tribal warfare that plagues his native Afghanistan. Mustafa straddles these two worlds with a quiet confidence that makes him instantly likable, but somewhat aloof. Sometimes he carries his message of hope and tolerance loudly, on his t-shirt or Facebook status, but most often he lets his life speak for itself.
However, Mustafa is not just a messenger or a role model to look up to. He is also a college student still struggling to find his own place in the world. He is a young man living thousands of miles from home and is also a devout Muslim in a nation sometimes suspicious of his religion.
I don’t want to make the mistake of doing what Andrew very carefully avoids doing—which is to reduce Mustafa to a symbol. But I also admire how he tries to help us learn something from the ways Mustafa needs to travel between very different (yet somehow contiguous) cultures.
Tim Xue also used the profile assignment to think about difference when he decided to interview a fellow student from Tibet. This interview really became as much about Tim as about Duojie, as we observed the two of the struggle to find a way of talking with each other:
Tim: Duojie, I was born in China and moved to the United States when I was four. I have family in the Chengdu and Shanghai areas and visit them every year. My Mandarin Chinese is pretty good, too, but I’m not fluent. Still, I confess I know very little about Tibet. What is it like?
Duojie looked towards the ceiling, raising one eyebrow and then the other. After a few seconds, he resumed eye contact, gave me a grin that managed to be both cheeky and polite at the same time, and responded with…
Duojie: Hmm, that’s a very general question.
I laughed, mentally kicked myself, and began again.
T: Sorry, why don’t we start with Tibet’s geography and culture?
D: Well I can’t speak for all of Tibet, just where I’m from.
T: That’s fine. Go ahead.
What makes this piece so remarkable is that it’s through their false starts and hesitations that we really begin to develop a feel for Tim and Duojie. Tim’s genius here was in leaving what many other writers or interviewers would have edited out.
Finally, one of my favorite pieces of this semester was Carol Shih’s “Tin Foil Men,” an insider-portrait of an outsider-artist at Duke. I love how Carol recreates his epigrammatic mode of speech and thought in this excerpt:
When winter turned to spring, the tin foil men basked in the sunlight again. They came out to get a nice silvery tan. One night, Lev and I stayed up late, past the hour normal human beings fall asleep, and we were walking along the Plaza after studying. All of a sudden, Lev stopped in the midst of his tracks and carefully considered the archway before us. Along the inside of the archway was this small ounce of a crack about seven feet high from the ground.
“High visibility with low accessibility,” he whispered to me, in case anyone could overhear. He then took a little foil man out of his orange backpack and delicately wedged its hand in between the two sides of the crack. But something looked funny and lopsided about the man’s position.
“It has to look alive,” explained Lev in a loud, excited whisper, “Gotta pretend that gravity is acting on them more than it actually is. The material’s light and it’s stiff, so it’s not going to hang like it has normal muscle mass.” He tugged the tin man’s arm down. “We have to pretend that it’s got normal muscle mass, kinda like Leonardo da Vinci and his train of thought. Balance and compensation.”
Carol’s art here lies not in defining her voice, but in listening to and mimicking the distinctive speech of someone else.
I didn’t realize that parataxis was going to become such an important concept in this class. For that, I mostly blame (and praise!) Lauren Kahn for her remarkable rendering of her frantic chase after a New York City bus in order to retrieve a lost DVD
Putting the DVD back in its bag, I take out my iPod to listen to my music. I plug my earphones in and zone out.
madison avenue. Madison Avenue. MADISON AVENUE.
Yikes, this is my stop. I stuff the DVD into the plastic bag, and stride toward the back exit. My body plunges into the street. The double doors slam shut behind me. I made it!
But then, I feel a pull on my hand and hear the plastic tear. The bus zooms off with my bag. In frustration, I grip the scraps of plastic with my fists.
I look down at the blur of black patent leather heels, left, right, left, right, carrying me forward.
Take that, Salman Rushdie! In a few short paragraphs—which I know she reworked over and over—Lauren evokes both the physical excitement of the chase and her panicky state of mind.
Describing a state of mind—the activity of thinking, what it feels like at a certain moment—is precisely what Erica Lin does, with both poignance and humor, in “Denied Entrance.”
I read out-loud, “Dear Erica.” At least they addressed the letter to me, instead of typing Dear applicant, which was not uncommon amongst medical schools. “The Committee on Admissions has completed its review of your application and has decided not to pursue your application further.” Translation: We do not want you. “Thank you for your interest in the Pritzker School of Medicine and the effort you invested in your application.” Thank you for the one-hundred dollars application fee. It will be used towards more worthy applicants. ”Best wishes to you as you pursue your interests in medicine.” Elsewhere. They omitted a word. As you pursue your interests in medicine elsewhere. “Herbert T. Abelson, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Admissions and Student Life and Sylvia Robertson, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid” AKA Dreamkillers.
We certainly feel Erica’s disappointment through her witty rephrasings of the rejection letter, but that same wit also makes it clear that she knows how to handle such setbacks. Brea Davenport lets us into the workings of her mind in a similarly witty way in her essay, “Blinded by the Light of the Land of the Rising Sun.” As a bonus, she also introduces her readers to the Japanese term and concept of otaku:
I am not concerned that I am so obsessed. There are conventions held all over the world for people like me. So at least, if I am crazy, I’m not crazy by myself. These conventions are for us otakus. Otaku is a Japanese word for people who like Japanese cartoons, known as anime, and Japanese comicbooks, known as manga. You can be American, Japanese, Italian, or anything to be an otaku. The only qualification is that you have to really like anime and manga. Being called otaku is not really negative. In America, if you are past a certain age in childhood and still love to watch cartoons some people see it as really juvenile, some people would think it was cute, and some people would think it was awesome and make plans to watch cartoons with you. The word otaku comes from the same idea. It is just people who “are past a certain age in childhood and still love to watch cartoons” from Japan.
I’d describe what both Erica and Brea are doing as a kind of “intellectual parataxis”—an insight into the process of thinking that often seems far more compelling than simply listing its results or conclusions. Being funny doesn’t hurt, either!
Posted By: Brea Davenport
Carol’s Tin Foil Men was such a great piece to read. I definitely felt some sort of connection to it because I was obsessed with those little tin foil men. I also feel a connection to the piece because I was in her writing group and heard it go through the process of editing and work-shopping. Hearing her story was some sort of reaffirming proof that they weren’t spontaneously generated foil men and created by an actual person, yet at the same time made “Len” the creator and the Tin Foil Men all the more amazing and legendary.
To this day, not that many people know the maker of these aluminum foil men. Lev still refuses to reveal his name to the public; he wants it to be a mystery. A gift of happiness, he says. He started out by making them for God, and then they became something
more…they became a way to reach out to strangers. Because he kept his identity secret, the little creatures didn’t represent any kind of cause or skin color or person. They were a conversation starter between two people who just happened to see one together and they invited the possibility of openness. Even if Lev wasn’t a part of that communication, it was a way for people to communicate with themselves, to question. Because life is open to interpretation, isn’t it?
It’s real life, but it’s magical. Awesome.
Another one of my favorites was Lauren’s Concrete Jungle Gym. The pacing and energy of this piece are so on point. Reading is an experience, not just an action when I read Concrete Jungle Gym. There were many great moments where she describes what she is going through as she tries to navigate New York City (A city that I have never been to, but could totally visualize by reading this piece).
My favorite part was
Putting the DVD back in its bag, I take out my iPod to listen to my music. I plug my earphones in and zone out.
madison avenue. Madison Avenue. MADISON AVENUE.
I thought it was a neat approach to documenting that “HELLO???” moment when your brain is trying to tell you something and you eventually realize it. I think you did a great job Lauren.
Posted by Erica Lin
My Life in the Words I Remember and the Ones I Don’t by Margrette Kuhrt
“I always signed my diary “love your friend, Margrette.” My entries never started with “dear diary” or any opening salutation, but they always ended with care and an expression of my friendship. The “dear” seemed so forced, a canned phrase everyone used without feeling or conviction. Somehow I had decided that it wasn’t really how you began a relationship, opened a conversation, or initiated communication with another that mattered. It was how things ended when all was said and done that spoke to your character. When you talk to a friend you just dive in, there doesn’t have to be a “hello how are you,” there’s a smile, a squeal of delight, a sparkle in your eye… all intangible things I couldn’t write on the pages of my diary. But when you leave your friends you say goodbye, you remind them you’ll see them soon, you tell them you love them, you say these things.”
I enjoyed reading this piece because Margrette makes insightful comments. As I read about her definition of love and of friendship, I feel I am better able to grasp my own perspectives about the topic. I particularly enjoyed the paragraph, copied above. It speaks to me because I, too, follow the same pattern: As a child, I never started my diary entries with the traditional one liner “Dear diary” but I always ended with a “Until tomorrow, Erica,” or some variation. I never stopped to think about its implications until I reached this paragraph. Additionally, I admire the way Margrette writes about these topics with such truthfulness and open-heartedness, like in the segment “You wouldn’t be Scarlett O’Hara.” It allows the reader to know her. This type of honesty is something I hope to be comfortable enough to use in my future writing experiences.
Blackout by Lawson Kurtz
“The typical physiological response to intemperate consumption is twofold, and if you are familiar with the college party scene or have experienced the local breed of “tailgate” you are probably already well acquainted with—and disgusted by—both. A good first step towards reducing the amount of a drug in the body is to immediately terminate the absorption of continued doses of the drug. Your body knows the best way to do this—what smart bodies we have!—and against our greatest wishes—“Stupid body! Stupid body! No, stop—we throw up, expelling future doses of alcohol along with what appears to be a hastily consumed #5 extra value meal. Party foul.”
I was really impressed with this piece. Lawson takes a sensitive topic (for college students, especially in the light of the recent banning of Fourloko and Tailgate) and breaks it down into key issues, such as social norms and acceptances as well as biological responses and temporary neurological impact. He writes about it all in a way that is really engaging. By using his experiences, he is able to break the barrier that would distance a college student and a similar report from a well-informed physician. Also, his witty writing style, evident in the paragraph copied above, holds onto the reader’s attention throughout the piece.
Posted by Lauren Kahn
Margrette Kuhrt’s “The Pink House on the Sidewalk or How I Learned to Dream Again” is a piece that many Duke students would be nodding their heads to (as I did) when reading about the process of self-discovery and independence that comes with college. She takes us through her growing need to break free from the life she was “supposed to live” and rediscover her imagination. I particularly enjoyed her writing about the sidewalk chalk drawings and how they mean something to her:
“You see, whenever I draw a rectangle, it is around the number I wish to distinguish as the final answer to the math problem I have been working on. And I don’t ever have the occasion to draw triangles. But the longer I look out to the sidewalk, the more I’m captivated by the unmistakable four right angles of a lucky rectangle that gets to be a house, drawn in sure pink lines” (3).
I love the way she focuses on the shapes as a way to show the difference between her life (dictated by math classes) and the lives of these children (driven by their creativity). Throughout the piece she does a great job inspecting the different dimensions of her discoveries, starting with her frustration and stress and then ending with the realization that she needs these children—and the imaginative mindset they represent—to balance out her life. I admire Margrette’s self-reflection and the way she works through her thoughts in her writing, taking the reader through her discoveries. I will forever think of this piece whenever I see sidewalk chalk and will remember to take the time to appreciate the details of the children’s uninhibited imagination.
I also truly appreciated Alexandra McKnight’s raw and honest writing in “Tags for A Moment” about her devastating break-up and strong recovery. My favorite section reads,
“True love was simple. It was not filled with hidden secrets, insomnia filled nights, or broken promises. Love was a simple equation: what you put in, you get back in return. My situation was also simple: I deserved better than Brandon. Carefully and with a new perspective I touched the lavender tipped paintbrush to our canvas: Love = Love. I left the Center a bit happier, a bit more complete; like a single shard of glass had been properly places back into the frame.”
Xan’s last sentence is particularly beautiful and poetic. She is able to find beauty after heartbreak. Though “Love=Love” was originally intended as a sign of LGBT, Xan is able to adopt the symbol to make meaning for her own situation. Thank you for sharing such a powerful and personal piece.
Posted by Carol Shih
Eriks Reks: Bookworm’s Manifesto
I know everyone likes Eriks’ Bookworm Manifesto, but so do I! I don’t want to overdo the commentary on this particular work, but…I like it. I really do. Maybe it has something to do with my own fascination with children’s books. Here’s my favorite part:
What was your favorite book as a kid?
I know mine was this book called Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown.
It was furry. I mean, it was actually, literally, sensorially—however many ways you want to
say it—wrapped in its own coat of fur.
See picture (too bad you can’t touch):
When my mom read to my brothers and I, we always wanted to touch it. “But I wanna hold
it!!!” we would cry.
Now, I don’t think these are the best lines that Eriks has ever written. (He’s got some great lines in his other piece.) But he has this effortless way of capturing memories, senses, feelings in very simple words. His sentences aren’t complex, you see. He doesn’t load them with terms you can’t understand. He’s speaking to you on your own terms. And that’s what I love about his voice (not his speaking voice.. well, his speaking voice is nice too… but you know what I mean). His words make me want to wrap myself in fur and touch the furry book. (Is that weird?)
Janet Li: On the Job
6:30 AM. My boss, Melvin, otherwise known as
“Jai” (pronounced JAY), wakes up. Once his eyes are
opened, he reaches for his MacBook Pro, just an armslength
away, and checks and sends any emails he needs
to at that moment, “while in bed, mind you.” He
proceeds to read some news. This morning, he browses
the USA Today and reads all the sections, though he
finds the international and science-related news to be
the most interesting.
I don’t know if I like this section best. I think I just like the whole thing! Why? Again, I am drawn to the simplicity of Janet’s language. It’s clear and direct. She doesn’t add any frills to it because she doesn’t need to. Her profile of Jai feels like it’s spot-on even though I don’t know Jai at all. But, after reading her piece, I feel like I am connected to him. I also like how the piece is set up according to the time of day!
Posted by Zeewan Lee
I was lucky enough to read Xan’s pieces throughout the semester. Her writing mesmerized me from the very beginning, because of the energy, passion, and voice she encased in her pieces. In her first project, Tags for a Moment, her prose was nothing short of beautiful. Because I was truly impressed by the power of her voice in the first draft of this piece where she focused solely on the dog tags and her memories wrapped around it, I initially worried that the power in her voice might fade in her lengthened version of the piece. However, looking at her finished version of the piece, I realized what she did to the ending of the piece was just as extraordinary as the beginning.
For a second I got caught up in her almond shaped eyes but even when I snapped back to reality, a feeling lingered. The scorn and sin had temporarily broken. Something went off, like an unexpected but desperately needed alarm clock, that reminded me that this feeling would not last forever; that this was just one moment in my life that would hopefully prepare me for the future; that I would pull through; that it was okay to be weak sometimes; that even in my weakness I was still strong. True love was simple. It was not filled with hidden secrets, insomnia filled nights, or broken promises. Love was a simple equation: what you put in, you get back in return. My situation was also simple: I deserved better than Brandon. Carefully and with a new perspective I touched the lavender tipped paintbrush to our canvas:
Love = Love.
Alexandra McKnight “Tags for a Moment”
The simple equation of Love=Love is engraved in my mind even to this day. The finished piece, in my opinion, contains not only beautiful prose but also powerful insights.
Xan, your presence in Tags for a Moment is so strong. You are strong.
Another wonderful piece I still remember comes from Lauren.
I fought my way through the many obstacles in my path. Shopkeeper. Doesn’t stand a chance. Hot dog man. Move, or you are going to get hurt. Burrito truck. Adios amigos.
……………………………I dart right.
I dart left.
I beat on in this terribly un-choreographed and exceedingly gawky dance. A symphony of car horns plays in the background. The audience watches with anticipation as the girl dashes and dodges, in full-fledged business attire. Her blouse and skirt adapt to running movements for which they were hardly designed. They watch me run. The bus is stuck in traffic. I can make it. Five cars behind. Four cars behind. Three. Two. Phew. Breathing never felt so difficult.
Lauren Kahn “Concrete Jungle Gym”
When I read Concrete Jungle Gym for the first time — our class read this piece together in the second class of the semester — the piece did not contain this incredible part I have quoted above. Looking at the finished version, I loved how Lauren played with the position of her sentences, and loved (even more) the details of the passersby she provided in her finished version. So far in this semester, I have not read a piece that was more dynamic and in-the-moment or funnier than Lauren’s.
Lauren, I really admire the wit in your voice in Concrete Jungle Gym. And I’m so glad you made it back to the bus and got your DVD. YES, YES, the Skinny Bitches would definitely be proud. I’m proud!
Posted by Lawson Kurtz
Rachel Revelle, “Filling a Bookshelf”
At the beginning of this school year, I made a pledge to attempt to be a paper-free human being. My goal was to live digitally. Books and paper handouts, in my opinion, were archaic remnants of an inferior, and less environmentally friendly way of schooling. How could a book be considered valuable in the face of a Kindle—a portal to a world of infinite information?
Rachel showed me how through her piece, “Filling a Bookshelf”. I thought it would take a lot to change my opinions about books, and it did. Rachel’s piece was incredibly powerful, well designed, and seamless. Physical books, unlike their digital peers, tell a vivid and important story of our lives, and bookshelves are more than simple storage devices; they are a confirmation of one’s past and a powerful assertion of one’s values.
“It is important to fill this shelf honestly, though, knowing that in this little way I am being brave enough to stand up for my beliefs. The books encased there in fact hold the knowledge with which I can defend those beliefs. My bookshelf will always stand and hold whatever part of me I am willing to share.”
Throughout the piece, as evidenced by the above passage, Rachel’s writing just seems to flow, delicately describing her personal experience with her bookshelves, while always relating to broader, more universal truths. If you think you have your mind made up on books and bookshelves, you simply must read this piece.
Eriks Reks, “Bookworm’s Manifesto”
Coincidentally—or not—my other favorite piece tackles the same issue as “Filling a Bookshelf”. The pieces are similar in their theme and in their excellence, however other than that, they couldn’t be more different. “Bookworm’s Manifesto” has a unique and refreshing conversational style exemplified by the passage below:
Ultimately though, I don’t want to diss technology. I think its great. The iPad—awesome. Xbox—bad to the bone. Blackberries—killer. They do so much for the world and the society. But call me old-fashioned—
You: You are old-fashioned.
—I’d rather read a book any day of the week.
This piece is more than an essay. It’s a funny, witty and persuasive conversation, and an unabashed declaration of the value of books even in the face of advanced technology. The combination of a fresh style, insightful commentary and a valuable message culminated in a piece that didn’t have to demand my full attention in order to receive it; not once did I feel compelled to check my email as I read it on my iPad. Now that’s a good piece.