Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Books’

The Perils of Being A Writer, part 2

September 30, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

Entangled, a short film about quantum experiments gone wrong. via io9.

6. You become a cannibal. You don’t eat human flesh, just your own. When you’re a writer, everything is material. It’s your duty to your craft to lead a thrilling life, or be around fascinating people; otherwise, what would you have to write about?

Your own life is source material—not surprisingly, many first novels are thinly-veiled autobiographies, or if you want to sound smart, Bildungsroman. This can lead to existential questions like: Am I living my life, or am I just going through this for the story? What is my real self? Do I have a real self?

And when you have existential crises, you don’t go to a psychotherapist who will prescribe antidepressants so you can function “normally”. Are you kidding, and cut off all that potential material?

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Reading year 2014: The Bone Clocks is singular and spectacular. Drop everything and read it.

September 28, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Shopping 3 Comments →

drogon mitchell

We knew nothing would get done until we finished reading The Bone Clocks so we blew off work for two days to concentrate on it. We could’ve finished sooner, but we needed to recover after each of its five sections.

The Bone Clocks is on the Booker Prize longlist and while we would love if David Mitchell won, it’s probably too damn entertaining for the judges. After the traditional structure of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, Mitchell returns to the connect-the-plots-and-characters arrangement of Cloud Atlas (whose film adaptation by the Wachowskis and Tykwer reviewers hate and we really liked). The Bone Clocks is a science-fiction/fantasy novel, with entities not unlike Time Lords who pop in and out at different periods of history. (How does Mitchell avoid getting consigned to the limbo of the “genre” authors, many of whom could write circles around the critically-acclaimed?)

The Bone Clocks is ambitious, gripping, bizarre, occasionally irritating in a blockbuster action movie way (the fourth chapter, detailing the battle between those entities, is Matrix-y), and wonderful, and when we got to the end we wanted to start reading it all over again. The last section, set in 2043 as a world without oil hurtles towards a Mad Max future, was particularly, viscerally terrifying.

How visceral and terrifying? We went to S&R to stock up on provisions in case the world falls apart. Unfortunately we did not consult our apocalypse-prepping friend so we ended up with plenty of cat food, vitamins, ginger ale, and giant bottles of mouthwash and moisturizer. Then it occurred to us that in case the world does go belly up, the Time Lords, Horologists, Atemporals or whoever is in charge would pick us up and whisk us to a library bunker somewhere. And if they don’t, we’d at least have clean teeth (We could probably share the cat food, if things get really dire).

The Bone Clocks will be reviewed in full.

Question at Midnight #3

September 26, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Contest, Sponsored 30 Comments →

The Librarian by Arcimboldo

Which book would you live in?

Suppose there were an invention, like in The Kugelmass Episode, that could project you into any work of literature as a new character. What novel would you choose to live in?

The Kugelmass Episode by Woody Allen


Post your answers in Comments. The winner will be announced just before midnight tonight.

* * * * *

The winner is allancarreon. (Yes, he does social media for the Library of Babel, but for once he is not disqualified. It’s a birthday contest, Zinfandel wins.) Congratulations, email to claim your prize.

The Perils of Being A Writer

September 23, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books 2 Comments →


The original title of this piece was “Don’t Be A Writer”. The plan was to discuss the aggravations of being a professional writer—someone who makes a living off writing, as opposed to someone who does it as a hobby or a form of “creative self-expression”—and dissuade anyone who doesn’t have the discipline (or compulsion) from even attempting to write. However, I was reminded that irony is dead and I would have to use emoticons next to my title to make myself understood. Hence the less compelling, but clearer title.

1. No job security. So you embark upon a writing career and figure you can support yourself by writing articles for magazines, newspapers and other media. “Freelancing” sounds adventurous, like being a ronin or samurai for hire. You get to write full-time, and only about the subjects you care about. In the words of countless refrigerator magnets and calendars, you are following your bliss. Good for you—if you’re independently wealthy or living off your parents.

Freelance writers’ fees have not changed substantially in two decades. In some cases they have declined, and in other cases the writer gets paid not in cash, but in gift cheques from advertisers. You don’t get paid upfront. You wait till your article is published, and then you wait another month or two to get paid. In the meantime, how do you pay your bills? Oh, and you don’t get benefits. The prevailing mindset seems to be: You’re doing what you love, and you expect to get paid for it? Grow up like the rest of us and get a proper job.

You could get a day job in a writing-related field, like the academe or advertising or journalism, and write your novel/poetry/plays at night. If you have the energy left. I hear screenwriting used to be lucrative—not anymore. (By the way, what’s the deal with those Wattpad novels? Can the writers actually live off the proceeds? When they’re sold to the movies, do the writers make big bucks?)

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Oliver Sacks on libraries

September 23, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Books No Comments →

The Bodleian Library photo by Greg Smolonski

On the whole, I disliked school, sitting in class, receiving instruction; information seemed to go in one ear and out by the other. I could not be passive—I had to be active, learn for myself, learn what I wanted, and in the way which suited me best. I was not a good pupil, but I was a good learner, and in Willesden Library—and all the libraries that came later—I roamed the shelves and stacks, had the freedom to select whatever I wanted, to follow paths which fascinated me, to become myself. At the library I felt free—free to look at the thousands, tens of thousands, of books; free to roam and to enjoy the special atmosphere and the quiet companionship of other readers, all, like myself, on quests of their own…

Read it at The Threepenny Review, via 3 Quarks Daily

Reading year 2014: Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement is compulsively readable

September 22, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

mat amazement

It’s about Violet, the half-Chinese daughter of an American woman who runs a courtesan house in Shanghai. The Qing dynasty is falling, anti-foreign sentiment is rising, business is failing, and mother and daughter are fighting. Like mothers and daughters everywhere. There’s also a fat, cranky cat named Carlotta. We started reading it yesterday and now you’ll have to pry it out of our claws.

Before The Valley of Amazement, we read Monsieur Pain, a short novel by Roberto Bolano, three Guardians of the Galaxy compilations and The Age of Ultron. After The Valley of Amazement, we’re reading The Bone Clocks, which Noel bought for us in Singapore. (Didn’t want to take chances with the port congestion.)