Something Borrowed: Something to Return

Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed depicts the love triangle between characters Rachel, Darcy, and Dexter. Rachel is the maid of honor in Darcy and Dexter’s wedding. Rachel met Dexter in law school and introduced him to her life-long best friend, Darcy. At the start of the novel, the reader is thrown into the situation when Rachel describes the first time that she slept with Dexter behind Darcy’s back. While Giffin illustrates problems and themes that are relatable to the readers, the characters lack likeability, making Something Borrowed something that I would like to return to the library.

The first chapter of Something Borrowed holds the entire premise of the book. On Rachel’s thirtieth birthday, Darcy steals the limelight from Rachel (as always) and in return Rachel has sex with Darcy’s fiancé, Dexter. What started out as a one-night stand apparently turns into something more when Dexter and Rachel begin to fall in love. During this affair, Rachel reveals to the reader the backstory between these three main characters. Darcy is Rachel’s lifelong “best friend”. However, Rachel continuously complains about Darcy being self-centered throughout the novel and still tries to insist that Darcy is a good friend to her. This is not convincing for the reader— this just gives the reader negative associations with Darcy because her good “best friend” side is rarely shown in the text.

In law school, Rachel acknowledged Dexter’s good looks and charm but thought that Dexter was out of her league. This gives the reader the impression that Rachel lacks self-confidence. Rachel then introduces Darcy and Dexter, which is also a display of low self-confidence because she is letting Darcy win everything that she wants. Rachel begins to have an affair with Dexter during the engagement, eventually breaking up the wedding and winning Dexter’s love.

Although this love triangle is a complicated situation, the characters do not seem to grow or learn from their actions in the story. The characters do not work for what is best for them, they all whine like children until they get their way. Dexter does not learn how to be a respectful man, for most of the story he was engaged to Darcy and having and affair with Rachel. He had everything that he wanted and lusted after without any consequences because Darcy was just as self-centered as he was and Rachel never stood up for herself. Rachel shows indecisiveness and does not make any choices that are good for herself; in the end, she is fulfilled with everything that she wanted without working for it in a proper manner. Darcy’s character remains superficial and flat. She is hypocritical, getting mad at Rachel and Dexter’s betrayal when Darcy had been having affairs during their engagement as well.

I wish that Something Borrowed had more depth in character development, and that the overall meaning of the story was different. The way that Giffin wrote the novel gives the reader the impression that cheating is okay and that it will all work out if you are truly in love. This is not reality; if Rachel wanted things to work out with Dexter, she should have talked the situation out with him rationally instead of expecting everything to magically fall together for them in the end. The novel displays the problems of complicated relationships and indecisiveness, but does not provide good solutions for these characters.

— Kristina Kelly

The Exciting World of Literary Readings

It is one thing to read a poem or a short story, but it is quite another to hear it in the author’s voice, as it was meant to be read. The Meacham conference, held in Chattanooga each semester, is a perfect opportunity to take part in this type of experience. This conference brings together a variety of talented authors to share their work. One such reading this year consisted of authors Sharan Strange, Caleb Ludwick, and Stephen Corey. Each author illustrated a different side to the literary world, which was exciting to witness.

Strange, a poet, showed a reverence for the things she writes about. It was clear from the tone of her voice that she takes her subjects seriously and wants to share their importance with the world. Ludwick, a short story writer, had a different style to share with the audience. His story showed a realistic account of young boy’s life. This showed Ludwick’s tendency toward the realistic and how to make it pop for his audience. Corey was the most informal of the authors at this reading. He engaged the audience and made them feel involved in his pieces, which I appreciated.

This reading was an exciting experience for any fan of the literary world. It was rewarding to hear authors from such diverse literary positions come together and read their work. It gives the audience the sense of how the author hears the work in their head, and this opens up a whole new perspective on the piece. I would recommend everyone to come out and attend a reading in their community.

Horror Stories: A Literary Tradition

In order to welcome Halloween, here are a few classic horror short stories worth exploring. These Victorian writers are particularly interesting, and their work is old. However, many of the stories these men wrote paved the way for the modern horror we see in bookstores this time of year.

The first of these writers is M.R. James. James attended King’s College in Cambridge, England in 1882. After graduating, James became Provost. He enjoyed writing ghost stories purely for entertainment, and at Christmas time, James would invite students up to his study to listen. The students would nestle down around a fire with hot drinks, and eagerly listen to James relay his stories. This tradition continued for years, and his first compilation was published in 1904. M.R. James’s best ghost stories include:

  • “Lost Hearts”
  • “The Ash-Tree”
  • “Number 13”
  • “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”
  • “The Rose Garden”

In addition, H.P. Lovecraft, a contemporary of James, used similar writing techniques. Both of these stimulating writers engage each of the senses, causing the reader to literally cringe over certain descriptions. Lovecraft strikes fear in his readers by showing them the horror of the unknown. People are only afraid of what they cannot understand, and Lovecraft reminds you of this buried fear. Some of Lovecraft’s best tales are:

Both James and Lovecraft played major roles in bringing the ghost story tradition to life in the 20th Century. They inspired famous horror writers of our time, such as Stephen King, and BBC still airs cinematic versions of James’s stories in December.  We should remember their tradition whenever Halloween costumes plague the racks at Wal-Mart or when Paranormal Activity -15 comes out in theaters. Let’s make this Halloween a classy one, and remember a couple of the writers who inspired the modern horror story tradition.

Battle Royale versus The Hunger Games

For those of you who may be aware that a film called Battle Royale was released in Japan several years back,  its hard to miss the accusations that followed Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, when her book was made into an instant blockbuster hit. The “charges”  several fans of Battle Royale made against Collins was that she copycated the storyline from the controversial earlier film.  Although the two seem disturbingly similar at first glance, it is when a further look is granted to the material of the two films that  a very different set of aesthetic objectives for them comes to light. A deeper survey of a film released  even earlier than both of these movies also suggests that there is nothing new under the sun in terms of the idea that is put forth in the them.

In Battle Royale, the premise, shared by The Hunger Games, is laid down:  Kids of an certain eligible age are selected to fight for the death. But where as The Hunger Games focuses on the dramatic story of a girl fighting for her life in the midst of an unjust system of social values (such as the demeaning of life to the point where such competitions are deemed as acceptable), Battle Royale occupies a position of a story where the plot about the fight for survival is really just a background for satire about teenage angst.  There is no overarching progression of events that necessarily ties all of the characters  together under the banner of one particular hero, such as the role that Katniss plays in The Hunger Games. Although two characters, one male and female, are focused on more than the others, each death in Battle Royale is given some sort of cinematic significance, with their death accompanied by a quote from the deceased character that frames them as a certain archetype of adolescence. Such an emphasis is lacking in The Hunger Games, which is a story with a more typical plot line fitting in with the conventions of the development of the hero as embodied by Katniss. In conclusion, even a brief discussion of the two films makes it very obvious—they share the same foundation, but in no way the same story.

The premise of these two films has been portrayed before, in films such as The Running Man, which displays a society that has deemed it socially acceptable to kill felons in a sort of game show where they are hunted down. One can go back even further to the story of The Most Dangerous Game, and find roots in Richard Connell’s tale that hails as a definite forerunner of the dystopic novels and films of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.

Disappointment On The Big Screen: Why You Should Read Before You Watch

I know I’m not the only one who envisioned Hagrid just a little bigger and Umbridge a lot uglier. Maybe you were let down by Peeta and Gale. Books that are turned into movies often get a lot of publicity and reach a bigger audience than they might of because of the readers that want to see their favorite book on the big screen. However, at least for me, many times it is a let down. Often the producers are not required to stick to the books exact story line. This leaves readers disappointed when the endings are messed up and ruined. I read—and cried through—My Sister’s Keeper. The movie was just as sad but missing the ending I was expecting and even wanted! I am a strong believer in reading the book before you see the movie. There is something about creating a face and somewhat of an identity for the character on your own before the media ruins it and commercializes it. I’ve yet to see the Hunger Games because I haven’t had time to read the book yet. This is not to say all books are ruined by movies. Water For Elephants, in both book and movie form, is excellent. This is a challenge to read the book before you see the movie next time. Make your own ideas about it before you are swayed but the commercials. Don’t be disappointed by the big screen ever again.

On Throwing it into The Fire

Recently I was defeated. I spent a week and a half writing a story. It turned out to be junk. I spent three days trying to fix it, and ultimately came out defeated in the process.

Harry Crews, author of A Feast of Snakes, in an interview–you can watch the clip here: –stated that he had burned half a novel. “I had taken a wrong turn,” he said. Crews says the amateur, or the coward, takes a wrong turn yet continues, because he or she doesn’t want to do that all over again. The artist, he says, takes the work and throws it into the fire, and does it all over again. I’m paraphrasing, slightly, but yes––how often do we try and take a story or poem we know is sorry and turn it into something, well, less bad? We take our joke amateur piece through about four workshops and by the end we’re left with a turd wrapped in gold aluminum foil.

I have a kind of nine circles of hell on my laptop for my writing. Three circles, really. The semi-occasional polished pieces go into a folder, very lamely titled Stories Turning Out Well. This folder is displayed on my desktop, in the buff before my eyes each day, to give me hope, I assume. Then there is the folder titled, simply, Stories. This is for junk I wrote when I first started, as well as writing exercises I’ve done on my own and in my various workshop classes. The third folder, which lies within the Stories folder, is also called Stories. Yes, it is not a very creative folder name, but consider it a testament to the lack of creativity of the work that gets tossed in there.

My new story is going into that folder. But I guess I’m no Harry Crews. I didn’t hit the delete button; I certainly didn’t burn it in a barrel behind my house like a madman, the way I picture Crews doing it. But as a young writer I like to hang onto my mistakes, so that maybe one day I can look back and read over the bad stuff, perhaps a way of gauging how far I’ve come.

And I guess my point is that young writers, or writers in general, must be willing to accept failure. If we can’t accept failure we’ll destroy our potential as artists.

I spent three days changing every damned sentence of a story that had no potential. After you do that kind of hasty editing, you come out with some creature of a very botched surgery job. Once I had exhausted myself, I couldn’t understand a line of my story. And failure, its liable to make you want to drink yourself to death. I felt the brief gust of melancholy when I realized it was hopeless. But a writing buddy had referred me in the past to the Harry Crews interview. I watched it again, and now the only thing on my mind is the next story.

So when you know its hopeless, just throw it into the fire, and think about the next story or poem. This may seem like a common bit of wisdom, but consider it a reminder. Watch the Crews video. Keep writing, dammit, and don’t be afraid to reject your own work. Because you’re better than that, right?

This just in: NPR is the best.

So I was going to write a blog post about something I heard on NPR today – about the importance of factual vs. emotional truth in writing – but I realized I they already did that, and that I could link to it like this. I was not disheartened for very long, though, because as I was searching for that article (which was on On the Media, on WUTC at 10 weekdays), I found this article, the second installment of All Things Considered‘s “NewsPoet” segment, where a poet hangs out with news people and writes a poem about it (this one’s a villanelle). While thinking, “Oh, that’s cool, but I need to find that first story,” I found <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/02/24/146817285/what-science-fiction-books-does-a-futurist-read">this one about a futurist's (yes, that is his job) favorite science fiction books.

Finally, I did find the first article (it’s about a book, by the way, Lifespan of a Fact). But by that point I realized two things. I didn’t need to rewrite all those articles that I came across, in fact I couldn’t; they’re already great pieces written by good journalists, and besides I’m not a journalist anyway. And I remembered that I don’t listen to NPR (or APM or PRI or whatever else – you know, public media) nearly as much as I should. I mean, it’s free, it’s incredibly informative, funny, and sometimes just weird enough to appeal to everyone, and it goes on all the time. I don’t know how many of you guys read, listen to, or watch public media (let us know in the comments if you do!), but it’s something we all should do, daily. Wouldn’t it be nice to tear away from Facebook, from Twitter, Memebase, and all the other “alternative news” (which really, are by now totally mainstream) and flat-out time-wasters that we usually spend our internet time on, and actually learn something informative and interesting for once? Something that takes more than thirty seconds to read. Something made for the pure joy of learning, not for ad revenue or political pandering. So yeah, NPR rocks. Just in case you didn’t know.

News Poet

Wouldn't you love this guy to sit in your office and write a poem about you? NPR gets people like him to. Every month.