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Maybe we read some celebrated literary works the way we eat kale or quinoa—you don’t exactly love it but they say it’s, like, a superfood. Not so Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. When I first started reading the novel, I couldn’t stop. Twelve hours and a couple pots of coffee later, I wanted to read it again right away. It’s a page-turner—not something one often says of literary fiction beloved by highbrow critics and academics—but I mean it as the highest possible compliment.

The book has every feature of a binge-worthy soap opera: characters we love and love to hate, doomed affairs, sex, violence, endless family squabbling, tragedy, intrigue, melodrama…. Again, this is no criticism; Marquez loved telenovelas and even wrote a script for one. He wanted his work to reach as many people as possible, to thrill and entertain. But he didn't withhold any literary nutrients either.

The novel’s poetic language, historical scope, and thematic and symbolic complexity has led critics like William Kennedy to compare it to the book of Genesis, and led no small number of readers to wildly prefer it to the Bible or any other ancient book of mythology.

If you’re one of the two or three people who hasn’t read the novel, and you don’t find all this praise fully convincing, consider the case made by Francisco Díez-Buzo in the TED-Ed animated video above.

The story, we learn, arrived as an epiphany Marquez had while he and his family were on the road to a vacation destination. He turned the car around, abandoned the trip, and started writing immediately—an example of the total commitment many writers promise themselves they’ll one day get around to maybe working on. Eighteen months and many pots of coffee later, One Hundred Years of Solitude appeared, introducing a worldwide readership to Marquez, magical realism, and Latin American literature, politics, and history.

Most every reader now has a volume of Octavio Paz or Pablo Neruda on the shelf, and novels by Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, or Isabelle Allende. Before Cien años de soledad arrived, however, this was rarely so outside of Spanish-speaking countries. The novel created a global appetite for rich Latin American traditions of storytelling and lyrical poetry. New translations from the region began appearing everywhere.

Like Faulkner’s entire corpus compressed into one volume, the epic tale of seven generations of Buendías in the fictional Colombian town of Macondo is vast and sprawling. It “is not an easy book to read,” says Díez-Buzo. Here, as you might expect, I disagree. It is harder not to read it once you’ve picked it up. But you will need to read it again, and again, and again.

So packed is the book with detail, allusion, historical reference, and narrative that you could read it for the rest of your life and never exhaust its layers of meaning. As Harold Bloom put it, “every page is rammed full of life beyond the capacity of any single reader to absorb… There are no wasted sentences, no mere transitions, in this novel, and you must notice everything at the moment you read it.” Pablo Neruda called it "the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since Don Quixote of Cervantes"—the founding text of Spanish-language literature and, indeed, of the novel form itself.

The supernatural and the surreal suffuse each page, raising even mundane encounters to a mythic dimension, staging history as timeless drama, played out over and over again through each generation. In each repetition, fantastic and fatal changes also “produce a sense of history," says Díez-Buzo, "as a downward spiral the characters seem powerless to escape.”

It is this history that Marquez described, when he accepted the Nobel Prize in 1982, as “a boundless realm of haunted men and historic women, whose unending obstinacy blurs into legend.” Marquez’s own family history, full of “haunted men and historic women,” served as a model for his succession of fictional ancestors. Latin Americans, he said, “have not had a moment’s rest,” yet in the face of colonialist brutality, civil war, dictatorships, “oppression, plundering and abandonment,” he declared, “we respond with life.” By some strange act of magic, Marquez contained all of that life in one extraordinary novel.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Photo by Faizul Latif Chowdhury, via Wikimedia Commons

As even his harshest critics admitted, V.S. Naipaul knew how to write. The death earlier this month of the author of A House for Mr Biswas, A Bend in the River, and The Enigma of Arrival got readers thinking again about the nature of his art. A Trinidad-born Indian who went to England on a government scholarship to Oxford, he eventually achieved a literary mastery of the English language that few of his peers in England — or anyone else there, for that matter — could hope to match.

Like any celebrated creator, Naipaul has long had his imitators. But instead of trying to replicate what they read in his books, they would do better to replicate how he made himself a writer. "It took a lot of work to do it," Naipaul once told an interviewer. "In the beginning I had to forget everything I had written by the age of 22. I abandoned everything and began to write like a child at school. Almost writing ‘the cat sat on the mat.’” Amitava Kumar quotes that line in an essay on his own development as a writer, influenced not just by Naipaul's memories of starting out but Naipaul's seven rules.

"There was a pen-and-ink portrait of Naipaul on the wall," writes Kumar about his first day working at the Indian newspaper Tehelka. "High above someone’s computer was a sheet of paper that said 'V. S. Naipaul’s Rules for Beginners.'" Tehelka reporters had asked the famed writer "if he could give them some basic suggestions for improving their language. Naipaul had come up with some rules. He had fussed over their formulation, corrected them, and then faxed back the corrections." Kumar decided to follow the rules and found they were "a wonderful antidote to my practice of using academic jargon, and they made me conscious of my own writing habits. I was discovering language as if it were a new country."

Naipaul's list of rules for beginning writers runs as follows:

Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than 10 or 12 words.

Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

Never use words whose meanings you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of color, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.

If you've read other writers' tips, especially those we've featured before here on Open Culture, some of Naipaul's rules may sound familiar. "Never use a long word where a short one will do," says George Orwell. "The more abstract a truth which one wishes to teach, the more one must first entice the senses," says Nietzsche. "The adverb is not your friend," says Stephen King. Naipaul's rules may strike you as overly restrictive, but bear in mind that he composed them for newspapermen looking to make improvements in their prose, and recommended following them for six months as a kind of course of treatment to rid themselves of "bad language habits."

The seasoned writer, however, can work according to rules of his own. Naipaul once explained this in no uncertain terms to Knopf editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta. "It happens that English — the history of the language — was my subject at Oxford," he wrote in a letter reprimanding the house for its overzealous copy editing, laboriously adherent to French-style "court rules," of one of his manuscripts. "The glory of English is that it is without these court rules: it is a language made by the people who write it. My name goes on my book. I am responsible for the way the words are put together. It is one reason why I became a writer."

via Lithub

Related content:

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Based in Seoul, Check Men's Fit Cotton Shirt LIVE Boxy Flannel 1pptH6 writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at winter Rebecca winter winter Leisure Taylor Leisure Jacket Jacket Rebecca Taylor Leisure x1tUqAwITt or on Facebook.

I'd be happy if I could think that the role of the library was sustained and even enhanced in the age of the computer. —Bill Gates

The New York Public Library excels at keeping a foot in both worlds, particularly when it comes to engaging younger readers.

Visitors from all over the world make the pilgrimage to see the real live Winnie-the-Pooh and friends in the main branch’s hopping children’s center.

And now anyone with a smartphone and an Instagram account can “check out” their digital age take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandno library card required. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Working with the design firm Mother, the library has found a way to make great page-turning use of the Instagram Stories platformmore commonly used to share blow-by-blow photographic evidence of road trips, restaurant outings, and hash-tagged weddings.

The Wonderland experience remains primarily text-based.

In other words, sorry, harried caregivers! There’s no handing your phone off to the pre-reading set this time around!

No trippy Disney teacups...

Sir John Tenniel’s classic illustrations won’t be springing to animated life. Instead, you’ll find conceptual artist Magoz’s bright minimalist dingbats of keyholes, teacups, and pocket watches in the lower right hand corner. Tap your screen in rapid succession and they function as a crowd-pleasing, all ages flip book.

Elsewhere, animation allows the text to take on clever shapes or reveal itself line by linea pleasantly theatrical, Cheshire Cat like approach to Carroll’s impudent poetry.

Remember the famous scene where the Duchess and the Cook force Alice to mind a baby who turns into a pig? Grab some friends and hunch over the phone for a communal read aloud! (It’s on page 75 of part 1)

Speak roughly to your little boy,

 And beat him when he sneezes:

 He only does it to annoy,

 Because he knows it teases


 (In which the cook and the baby joined)

 ‘Wow! wow! wow!’ 

Navigating this new media can be a bit confusing for those whose social media fluency is not quite up to speed, but it’s not hard once you get the hang of the controls.

Tapping the right side of the screen turns the page.

Tapping left goes back a page.

And keeping a thumb (or any finger, actually) on the screen will keep the page as is until you’re ready to move on. You’ll definitely want to do this on animated pages like the one cited above. Pretend you’re playing the flute and you’ll save a lot of frustration.

The library plans to introduce your phone to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis via Instagram Stories over the next couple of months. Like Alice, both works are in the public domain and share an appropriate common theme: transformation.

Use these links to go directly to part 1 and part 2 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on Instagram Stories. Both parts are currently pinned to the top of the library’s Instagram account.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her in NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Photo by Faizul Latif Chowdhury, via Wikimedia Commons

There are many ways for travel writers to get their subject badly wrong. Perhaps the worst is solely relying on uninformed observation rather than seeking the wisdom and experience of knowledgeable locals. To his credit, celebrated Nobel prize-winning novelist V.S. Naipaul—who passed away on August 11th at age 85—met, mingled, and spoke freely with individuals from every walk of life (including Eudora Welty) in the process of writing A Turn in the South, a travelogue of his sojourn through the much-mythologized and maligned Southern states of the U.S.

Naipaul’s voice alone might have overwhelmed the work with the extremely harsh, some have said bigoted, judgments he became known for in novels like A Bend in the RiverGuerillas, and Gap Pants Boutique Dress leisure Pants Boutique Boutique leisure Gap Gap leisure Pants Dress Dress Boutique The Enigma of Arrival. Instead, he won praise from reviewers like Southern historian C. Vann Woodward, who wrote that Naipaul “brings new understanding of the subject to his reader.” Woodward also noted that Naipaul “confesses to ‘writing anxieties’ about undertaking this book on people unknown to him.”

Though he consulted and quoted local voices in his survey of the South, it is ultimately Naipaul’s voice that organizes the work, and his precise, erudite prose the reader hears. It was a voice he took great pride in, as he should. For his many faults, Naipaul was a masterful literary stylist. One wonders, then, why a copy editor at Knopf would feel it necessary to make extensive revisions to the manuscript of A Turn in the South before its publication.

Copy-editing is an essential function, writes Letters of Note, without which many books would go to print “peppered with redundant hyphens, needless repetition, misplaced semicolons,” etc. But it is also a task that should interfere as little as possible with the matters of diction, style, and syntax that characterize an authorial voice. Like a conscientious backpacker, a good copy editor should endeavor to leave almost no trace unless the text is full of serious problems.

Clearly, as Naipaul’s irritated letter below shows, something went wrong. Upon receiving the copy-edited text, he writes, he was obliged to restore the original from memory. Naipaul assures Knopf’s editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta that he understands the English language and its history very well, and knows that, unlike French, it has no “court rules,” and can be bent any number of ways without breaking. He implies it is the job of every “serious or dedicated” writer in English to use the language as they see fit, and the job of an editor to mostly get out of the way.

No doubt this relationship can prove complicated and frustrating for both parties. Still, though we only get Naipaul’s side of the story, it’s hard not to take it when he points out he had written 20 books by that time, all of them acclaimed for the quality of their writing. "My name goes on my book," he declares. (So does the name "Knopf," Mehta might have replied.) "I am responsible for the way the words are put together." Read the letter in full below. And see Literary Hub for Naipaul’s Ten Rules of Writing if you’re interested in his prescriptions for clear English prose—advice he had earned license to take or leave in his own work.


10 May 1988

Dear Sonny,

The copy-edited text of A Turn in the South came yesterday; it is such an appalling piece of work that I feel I have to write about it. This kind of copy-editing gets in the way of creative reading. I spend so much time restoring the text I wrote (and as a result know rather well). I thought it might have been known in the office that after 34 years and 20 books I knew certain things about writing and didn’t want a copy-editor’s help with punctuation or the thing called repetition; and certainly didn’t want help with ways of getting round repetition. It is utterly absurd to have someone pointing out to me repetitions in the use of “and” or “like” or “that” or “she”. I didn’t want anyone undoing my semi-colons; with all their different ways of linking.

It happens that English - the history of the language - was my subject at Oxford. It happens that I know very well that these so-called “rules” have nothing to do with the language and are really rules about French usage. The glory of English is that it is without these court rules: it is a language made by the people who write it. My name goes on my book. I am responsible for the way the words are put together. It is one reason why I became a writer.

Every writer has his own voice. (Every serious or dedicated writer.) This is achieved by the way he punctuates; the rhythm of his phrases; the way the writing reflects the processes of the writer’s thought: all the nervousness, all the links, all the curious associations. An assiduous copy-editor can undo this very quickly, can make A write like B and Ms C.

And what a waste of spirit it is for the writer, who is in effect re-doing bits of his manuscript all the time instead of giving it a truly creative, revising read. Consider how it has made me sit down this morning, not to my work, but to write this enraged letter.



via Letters of Note

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Image by Graziano Origa, via Wikimedia Commons

I felt like sleeping for five years but they wouldn’t let me

—Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

I don’t know about you, but the grind gets me down. Day in, day out, the same routine, never a break but the odd vacation. And you know what they say about vacations; when you get back, you need another one. Used to be days were more regular, in the heydays of the unions. You put in your time and you get some back, enough at least for a good night’s sleep. No more. The machine never sleeps, and neither can we. If you have the good fortune to live in the U.S., you and I can call ourselves blessed residents of the most overworked nation in the world. Europeans may have it better, but maybe not by much.

Screw it, you want to say sometimes. I just want to get some rest. We’re entitled to it. According to that great folk theorist of the grind, Charles Bukowski, three or four days in bed may be just the thing to get the juices flowing again when spirits are low, and we don’t even have enough gas in the tank to revolt against a culture that’s trying to work us all to death. At the dawn of the age of deregulation and supply-side dominance, Bukowski saw the perils of mind-numbing, soul-killing, work, castigating the “9 to 5,” which is “never 9 to 5,” in a brutally honest letter to his publisher and benefactor, John Martin.

Bukowski’s prescription for the depression engendered by modern life (aside from blackout drinking, that is): Sleep, a need as physically urgent as food or water. It wards off morbid rumination: “sleeping in the rain,” he wrote, “helps me forget things like I am going to die and you are going to die and the cats are going to die.” And when “the Wheaties aren’t going down right,” he says in the spoken word piece above, “when I feel a little weak or depressed,” it’s sleep he recommends.

Dress Gap Boutique Boutique Dress Pants Boutique Dress leisure leisure Pants Gap Pants Boutique leisure Gap I just go to bed for three days and four nights, pull down all the shades and just go to bed. Get up. Shit. Piss. Drink a beer now and then and go back to bed. I come out of that completely re-enlightened for 2 or 3 months. I get power from that.

I think someday...they'll say this psychotic guy knew something know in days ahead and medicine, and how they figure these things out. Everybody should go to bed now and then, when they're down low and give it up for three or four days. Then they'll come back good for a while. But we're so obsessed with, we have to get up and do it and go back to sleep.

Can you get time off for three or four days in bed? Probably not. But hey, maybe there are more humane days ahead, as Bukowski forecasts in a rare moment of optimism, when jobs won't literally Boutique Athletic leisure leisure Nike Boutique Shorts leisure Boutique Shorts Nike Athletic q4fgt, when medical science will give us license to take “sleep leave.”

People are nailed to the processes. Up. Down. Do something. Get up, do something, go to sleep. Get up. They can't get out of that circle. You'll see, someday they'll say: "Bukowski knew." Lay down for 3 or 4 days till you get your juices back, then get up, look around and do it. But who the hell can do it cause you need a dollar. That's all. That's a long speech, isn't it?"

It's not a long speech at all, but it’s a damned good one.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Imagine trying to reconstruct the music of the Beatles 2,500 years from now, if nothing survived but a few fragments of the lyrics. Or the operas of Mozart and Verdi if all we had were pieces of the librettos. In a 2013 BBC article, musician and classics professor at Oxford Armand D’Angour used these comparisons to illustrate the difficulty of reconstructing ancient Greek song, a task to which he has set himself for the past five years.

The comparison is not entirely apt. Scholars have long had clues to help them interpret the ancient songs that served as vehicles for Homeric and Sapphic verse or the later drama of Aeschylus, almost all of which was sung with musical accompaniment. In a recent article at The Conversation, D’Angour points out that many literary texts of antiquity “provide abundant and highly specific details about the notes, scales, effects, and instruments used,” the latter including the lyre and the aulos, “two double-reed pipes played simultaneously by a single performer.”

But these musical instructions have proved elusive; “the terms and notations found in ancient sources—mode, enharmonic, diesis, and so on—are complicated and unfamiliar,” D’Angour writes. Nonetheless, using recreations of ancient instruments, close analysis of poetic meter, and careful interpretation of ancient texts that discuss melody and harmony, he claims to have accurately deciphered the sound of ancient Greek music.

D’Angour has worked to turn the “new revelations about ancient Greek music” that he wrote of five years ago into performances that reconstruct the sound of Euripides and other ancient literary artists. In the video at the top, see a choral and aulos performance of Athanaeus’ “Paean” from 127 BC and Euripides Orestes chorus from 408 BC. D’Angour and his colleagues break in periodically to talk about their methodology.

In the 2017 interview above from the Greek television channel ERT1, D’Angour discusses his research into the music of ancient Greek verse, from epic, to lyric, to tragedy, to comedy, “all of which,” he says, “was sung music, either entirely or partly.” Central to the insights scholars have gained in the past five years are “some very well preserved auloi,” he notes, that “have been reconstructed by expert technicians” and which “provide a faithful guide to the pitch range of ancient music, as well as to the instruments’ own pitches, timbres, and tunings.”

Determining tempo can be tricky, as it can with any music composed before “the invention of mechanical chronometers,” when “tempo was in any case not fixed, and was bound to vary between performances.” Here, he relies on poetic meter, which gives indications through the patterns of long and short syllables. “It remains for me to realize,” D’Angour writes, “in the next few years, the other few dozen ancient scores that exist, many extremely fragmentary, and to stage a complete drama with historically informed music in an ancient theater such as that of Epidaurus.” We’ll be sure to bring you video of that extraordinary event.

via The Conversation

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Back in 2016, New York City staged a month-long festival celebrating Albert Camus' historic visit to NYC in 1946. One event in the festival featured actor Viggo Mortensen giving a reading of Camus' lecture,“La Crise de l’homme” ("The Human Crisis") at Columbia University--the very same place where Camus delivered the lecture 70 years earlier--down to the very day (March 28, 1946). The reading was initially captured on a cell phone, and broadcast live using Facebook live video. But then came a more polished recording, courtesy of Columbia's Maison Française. Note that Mortensen takes the stage around the 11:45 mark.

"The Human Crisis" will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. You can download major works by Camus as free audiobooks if you sign up for a 30-Day Free Trial with Find more information on that program here.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in April, 2016.

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