One English Classy skill is to make connections with a text. Sometimes it is framed this way: TEXT TO SELF, TEXT to TEXT, and TEXT TO WORLD. The more you read, and notice, and experience, the easier this gets.
I just read the first 8 pages of George Watsky’s How To Ruin Everything. I had to stop because I was making too many connections. It reminded me of too many things I wanted to write and think about. I had to stop. Here is an example of connections and future points of departure and things I can add to my Lists #1-5.
Sometimes when I frame this conversation for students I make a big deal of focusing on the title and the cover and the front matter in the book in order to show that you don’t need to get too far into a book to make this a beneficial experience. (I also wrote about this here.)
- The Title. Lots of titles these days have the word HOW. I wonder why that is? I think a lot of blog and online stuff frames itself that way. Self-helpy. A quick turn of my head to the left reveals three books on my shelf: What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas, How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom, and How To Be Interesting by Jessica Hagy. I read these in part because the working title of a book that I am writing is HOW TO LIKE AND WHY: ADVENTURES IN APPRECIATION.
- The Cover. The words are handwritten in ALL CAPS letters. It looks like it was done with a Sharpie. I like doing this as well. I like handwriting. Austin Kleon’s books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work! both use his handwriting as a prominent design feature. And, by the way, both those books could have had the word HOW in the title. HOW to Steal Like an Artist and HOW to Show Your Work! were probably the first titles. ALSO, on my shelf, I have two short story collections whose cover is handwritten Sharpie: One More Thing: Stories and More Stories by B.J. Novak, and DON’T READ THIS BOOK IF YOU’RE STUPID by Tibor Fischer.
NOTE: I already feel exhausted and excited by this book and I haven’t even opened it. I want to tell the story of the last stack of books I bought before flying home from Hungary, and my epiphany about teaching and writing I had when I heard B.J. Novak do a reading at Powell’s. (One girl, all giddy, sitting in front of me kept going on these little language rants about correct usage, and how people didn’t value prescriptive linguistics (my paraphrase). AND she said this: If Mindy Kaling comes out here, because they were totally talking on Twitter last night, I will LITERALLY shit my pants. True story. Language rants about correct word usage AND “I will literally shit my pants.” To be fair, Mindy didn’t make an appearance, and so I don’t know. She may have very well shit her pants.
- Blurb by Lin-Manuel Miranda on the cover. He’s the Hamilton guy. A few of my students are excited about that musical, and musicals in general. I tell my students to follow-up on recommendations by people they like. (ALSO: It’s NOVEMBER! We are having an election. If I could force people to look at one piece of information, I would have them look at who was endorsing each candidate.)
- “Is a Debut Essay Collection” On my desk, in this computer, typed and binder-clipped are at least three book-length projects that, if finished and published, would be described as my own debut essay collection. Part of reading this book is research. It’s encouraging to read early work by writers that really found their groove. Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens, The Business of Fancydancing by Sherman Alexie, In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway, and Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan all come to mind.
- “After getting his start in spoken-word poetry, Watsky became better known as a rapper and touring musician.” If you turn the cover, this is the second sentence you read. It is right under a photo of a white guy that looks like he could be a stunt double for that Billy guy in Green Day. This sentence answers a question, and I believe, helps support my oft-repeated thesis IF YOU PRACTICE ONE KIND OF WRITING THIS CAN HELP ALL THE OTHERS. Why do I have to write a poem? Blah blah. It teaches you how to focus on editing, and sound, and brevity, and it can help you write songs and, etc. Change the genre up, but I think it’s the same story: Doing scrimshaw would make you a better tattoo artist, graphic designer, cartoonist.
Also, we watched a few spoken-word poetry performances in class last week. And in music class, at least one student is writing her song to be in the form of a spoken-word poem.
LET’S STOP HERE. I have only looked at the cover, and only got to the second sentence of the front matter of the book. BUT…I’ve had a fun reading experience, and several of my questions have been indirectly answered, and I have a list of things that I can now right, think, and talk about.
NOTE: These are things that I would add to my LIST #1 after looking at the cover of this book: handwriting, books with the word HOW in the title, things that shouldn’t work but do (Hamilton: An American Musical), spoken-word poetry, essay collections, B.J. Novak, Austin Kleon, Hungarian airports. This is what I would add to LIST #2: The prescriptive linguist convinced she would mess her pants if she saw Mindy Kaling.
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