Strap in, kids, because it’s time for the second installment of Extreme Pinterest Writing Prompts, what has now become a series here on the Atlas Blog. Previously on EPWP, I wrote 100-word creative writing blurbs based on a Pinterest writing prompt I dug up from my archives.
This time around, however, we’re raising the stakes. I’m still keeping myself self to the 100 words or less mark. This time, however, instead of me choosing my own prompts, I’ve given my friends and family the authority to choose the prompts for me. I won’t get to see what they’ve chosen for me until it comes time to write.
What you’re reading here is the raw, unedited—well, copyedited because I love me some good grammar—versions of these pieces. If you’d like to try this out for yourself, try out the prompts below, or check out some others on Pinterest. Alright, here we go…
Every weekend as a teenager, I would stay at home and watch YouTube videos hours at an end. I was never bored and there would be times that I would act if I was on camera saying, “I hope you guys liked my video so make sure you like, comment, and subscribe!” I always imagined how life would be like having a YouTube channel, going to VidCon which I still haven’t achieved yet, and doing meet and greets. I wanted my own channel so bad!
Ever since I was 14 years old, I wanted to create a YouTube channel because at the time that was one of my passions and dreams that I had at the top of my list and with a hard “No” rejection from my mom, I turned around and thought that “Well, I guess that’s it for me.” For some reason, as I went onto high school and entered college, I’ve always kept in the back on my mind that I will create my channel one day and live up my YouTube dreams.
Lights, camera, action! That’s what it felt like when I had to strut through the stage this past Friday. E.B.O.N.I., Emerson College’s Black Organization with Natural Interest had its 2nd annual fashion show at the Greene Theater. Wait, let me backtrack for one minute because I didn’t just get on a stage and start walking. It was just something I did out on a whim, not knowing what I was getting myself into. This was a whole new experience for me.
I do not love many things. This can largely be blamed on the fact that I am a cynical monster, subsisting on a diet of negativity and sadness, pessimistically roaming through life, crushing earnest appreciation in my wake.
However, when I love, I love HARD. One of the subjects of my pure adoration (or obsession — whatever you want to call it) is the darling of the wannabe-indie middle schooler known as Vampire Weekend. I have loved them from afar for six years, BECAUSE THEY HAVEN’T RELEASED ANY MUSIC IN SIX YEARS.
I find that a majority of my life-changing, though-altering, “big-bang” moments have happened after reading a book that has struck a particular chord with me. Honestly, I’m not even sure where I would be in my life right now if it weren’t for reading the books on this list. I don’t mean in a geographical sense, because I’m a home-body and where else would I be but inside my house, probably reading a book. #Bookworm4lyfe.
I mean the above statement in a more metaphysical way. Maybe the story has changed my outlook on something in society; maybe it’s empowered me in some way; or, maybe, it’s made me feel a little less alone in this journey we call life. Whatever the case, the following stories have brought me quite a lot of joy in my life, and I wish to share them with you all in the hopes that maybe they’ll help you, too.
The best reading season is inarguably fall. Summer is sometimes nice for reading outside, except that actually it’s super hot and sweaty and buggy and awful. People glorify “beach reads,” but books get all sandy and suncreen-y and warped just from being near the ocean, I guess. (Insert Danny from The Mindy Project shouting “I fear the ocean out of respect” here.) Reading in the winter is terrible because it’s constantly freezing, and if you’re wrapped in a blanket, your hands are exposed in order to hold the book. Unless you’re in possession of a Snuggie™, months of suffering ensue. And spring is mostly just Winter: The Sequel.
But fall…fall is the best. It’s a mix of nice days—you can read outside and the trees are pretty!—and brisk days—you can read inside and be super comfy! Also, hot beverages make their triumphant return, and everyone knows that there is no better way to read than with a cup of coffee/tea/cocoa/cider.
Luckily, there are also a ton of books that fit perfectly with fall. Whether they take place during the season, are ideal to curl up with, or just feel cozy and atmospheric, some books just scream “autumn.” (And not just because they’re thrillers or horrors and therefore feel Halloween-y. That’s the coward’s way out of a fall recommendation list. No, we’re going genre by genre.)
Writer’s block—it happens to the best of us. You’re furiously typing on your laptop, running with an idea for this story you’ve been toiling over, and then… silence. No more hasty tapping on keys, no more listening to the cogs whir in your head. The quiet is deafening, but you’ve hit this wall in your head, and new ideas are trapped behind it.
It’s hard to muster up the motivation to climb over that wall or destroy it completely. When it comes to creative writing especially, it can be hard to overcome a lack of ideas. What’s going to happen next in the plot? Where will your characters go? Will your main character like classic Mozart, or the new Nicki Minaj album?
Writer’s block is a dream killer and a productivity suck. Instead of lying down and surrendering, however, I’ve come up with some ways to stay inspired as a creative writer that I’d like to share with you, my fellow authors.
I am a sucker for a must-read book list. A hundred-books-to-read-in-a-lifetime list? Sold. A ranking of thirty literary fiction books you just have to read before you turn thirty? You’ve got my attention. If someone just rattled off a bunch of those recently-published books that are actually just Wattpad fanfiction in a light disguise under the heading “You Have To Read These,” there’s a 75 percent chance I’d at least consider adding them to my to-read list.
That’s why the end of the year is the perfect storm for me. It’s when all of the nominees for the prestigious literary awards are announced, and each one of those lists is essentially a must-read list in and of itself. Even with the Nobel Prize for Literature not happening this year, it’s a lot to take in.
Simply put, I do not have the time to read dozens of heavy/intense/depressing/heavily stylized books right now. (Or ever.) So a brisk comb-through of the just-announced 2018 National Book Award Finalists is in order.
A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley
My tiny synopsis: This short story collection is an exploration of black masculinity, through nine different perspectives and moments.
My tiny synopsis: When his mother is sent to jail, Sequoyah, a Cherokee teenager, is placed in foster care. There, he meets and bonds with Rosemary, another Native American teenager with a turbulent past.
My tiny synopsis: A story in two perspectives: the first, Yale, a museum curator just beginning to find success in 1985 Chicago, when the AIDS epidemic begins to touch everyone he knows. The second, Fiona, a woman in contemporary Paris searching for her missing daughter when she is forced to reexamine her time in the middle of the epidemic in Chicago.
My tiny synopsis: When a woman’s best friend dies, she is unexpectedly saddled with caring for her Great Dane. The woman and the dog come to love each other SO MUCH.
Promising review excerpt: “This elegant novel explores both rich memories and day-to-day mundanity, reflecting the way that, especially in grief, the past is often more vibrant than the present.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)
The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation by Colin G. Calloway
My tiny synopsis: The title just about covers it: this is a nonfiction exploration of George Washington’s relationships with Native Americans. This book is 620 pages long and I’m assuming at least 20 of them are for that title alone. (Buh dum ch.)
Promising review excerpt: “George Washington’s life [is] a lens for uncovering forgotten history in this detailed account of interactions between Native and white Americans during the latter half of the 18th century.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)
American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Victoria Johnson
My tiny synopsis: This guy David Hosack was one of four guys who were at that Hamilton-Burr duel, so if you like Hamilton this will probably interest you. Hosack was an excellent doctor and botanist, apparently, and plants are cool.
Promising review excerpt: “History buffs and avid gardeners will find Hosack an appealing and intriguing figure who doubles as an exemplar of the qualities of a vibrant and expanding America.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)
The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart
My tiny synopsis: This is a biography of Alain Locke, a mentor to figures like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and the man who has been called the father of the Harlem Renaissance.
Promising review excerpt: “Stewart creates a poignant portrait of a formidable yet flawed genius who navigated the cultural boundaries and barriers of his time while nurturing an enduring African-American intellectual movement.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)
We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler
My tiny synopsis: This book details the quest of corporations to gain constitutional rights, and the ways that the rights of the corporation now largely equal the rights of the individual. I imagine it makes everyone who reads it screaming mad.
Promising review excerpt: “Winkler employs an evocative, fast-paced storytelling style, making for an entertaining and enlightening book that will likely complicate the views of partisans on both sides of the issue.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
My tiny synopsis: I specifically remember reading the synopsis of this book several months ago, saying “no, too sad,” and putting it down. Mason Buttle is an overweight boy with learning disabilities who is ruthlessly bullied, and who is being investigated in the murder of his best friend. Then apparently that wasn’t sad enough, because his other friend goes missing too. Even the synopsis overwhelms.
Promising review excerpt: “Poignant and suspenseful, Mason’s story crystallizes an adolescent boy’s joys and fears as he comes into his own.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
My tiny synopsis: Charlie’s dad, a sharecropper, dies, and a Very Bad Dude named Cap’n Buck comes to collect money Charlie doesn’t have. He agrees to track down some fugitives in order to forgive the debt – but discovers the fugitives are really runaway slaves.
Promising review excerpt: “Written in persuasive dialect and piloted by a hero who finds the courage to do what he knows is right, Curtis’s unsparing novel pulls no punches as it illuminates an ugly chapter of American history.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)
Well, this was not helpful even a little bit. Note to self: Next time you want to avoid adding a bunch of books to your to-read list, at points in your life when you can afford neither the time or the money, don’t look into potentially award-winning books.
And for the love of all that is holy, don’t also read a bunch of glowing reviews of them.
All of these books look amazing and these are only three main categories. For more information on the short-list, including the nominees in the categories of Poetry and Translated Literature (a new addition this year), click here. Keep an eye out for the announcement of the winners November 14!
Recently, I’ve become incredibly interested in reading more diverse literature, having just finished reading If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. After all, it’s 2018, people–about time that there’s greater representation in books, whether it’s in Young Adult fiction or in higher literature. For some other great Diverse YA recommendations, check out this post.
I’ve been intentionally branching out in an attempt to discover and read more diverse literature, whether it be regarding topics about feminism, queerness, or cultures other than mine. I feel like literature is the perfect gateway through which we can better understand human experiences apart from our own.
Yet, I still find myself grossly attached to the largely white/white male dominated realm of classical literature. I’m talking like I will fight you if you come after my baby boy Holden Caulfield grossly attached. I’m proud to say one of my favorite books of all-time is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I can also quote all of George Orwell’s 1984 in my sleep. “’If there is hope,’ wrote Winston, ‘it lies in the proles.’”
The definition of classical literature, per Encyclopedia Britannica, is “the literature of any language in a period notable for the excellence and enduring quality of its writers’ works.” Some people might argue that this means that classical literature is only from periods such as the Golden Age or the Renaissance. However, I once had an English teacher who told me that classical literature is a category for any piece of authorial work that’s relevance and excellence has endured far past its publication date. I wholeheartedly subscribe to her definition, hence why I consider works such as The Catcher in the Rye and 1984 as classical literature.
While there’s no angry mob coming after me because I tend to favor classical lit (keep those pitchforks locked up, please), I do still feel people’s scornful eyes on me when I declare my love for the novels of day’s past. How can you possibly revere those stories when they totally lack diversity? people ask me. Trust me, I understand the frustration. I myself wonder if there’s any way that classical literature can still be #relevant when the world is so different than it was back then regarding representation of minorities.
Take the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as an example. Though originally praised for its diversity in showing the struggle of blacks in the 1960s, a time of severe racial division, many nowadays claim that the novel, in light of today’s world, isn’t so diverse at all. Character Atticus Finch, who is required to defend Tom Robison in court, feels as though the only way he can win the case is if he convinces the jury ofhishonor instead of the innocence of Robinson. We learn nothing of who Robinson is as a character and are instead forced to focus on the trope of the white savior (for more on this, check out this great article by The New Republic).
So why are we still teaching these novels, and countless others like them, to kids in schools? How are they still pertinent to our society? For one thing, the prose is excellent (that’s the writing student coming out in me). But, more importantly, for me, the answer lies in the way that classical literature acts as a time-capsule. Reading stories like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace give us a glimpse into what the world was like twenty, fifty, sometimes even hundreds of years ago. Novels, just like your history class textbooks, capture the lives of the people from our world’s past. While these people may be fictional, the environment they are a product of is very real. Just because the characters didn’t actually live doesn’t mean they can’t tell us something about the world from which they were brought to life in.
From these novels, we can learn not only what our world was like then, but how to better our world today. From these novels, we basically learn what not to do. Reading the actions of characters from classical literature reminds us how we must never be as small-minded as some of them. If we want to change today, maybe we should start by looking back a few chapters to the works of the popular writers of yesterday.
Classical literature is still relevant in the sense that reading it is a learning experience. While we may not support the views and sentiments expressed in the work, we may instead use such views and sentiments as a tool to teach the world how to be more inclusive and accepting.
If you’re looking to get into reading some classical literature for fun, I recommend all of the works mentioned throughout this post, as well as:
I am terrible at making playlists. I have weird (or nonexistent) taste in music, so it’s useless to craft anything more specific than the seven-hour “songs I like” playlist that is practically the only thing in my Spotify. Also, it’s boring to me to sort songs, which is why my sole playlist still contains songs I liked in 2015. And why I spend more time skipping songs than listening to them. Luckily, there is no need for me to force myself to be better at the fine art of playlist-making, because movie soundtracks exist.
Movie soundtracks make for a better-curated, more aesthetic-y, overall more fulfilling and inventive music listening experience than any playlist you could make yourself. To prove this point, I have collected here some of my absolute favorite movie soundtracks. Click the album art for a link to the music!