Paul-is-Dead and Other Wild Conspiracies

Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a look-alike imposter. He never played the half-time show at the Super Bowl. He was never knighted by Queen Elizabeth. And, he never married or fathered his four children. Actually, the remaining Beatles members covered up his death to keep their band together and on the rise, or so crazed conspiracy theorists believe. These theorists point out that the remaining Beatles started hiding hints in their music that the real Paul was dead. They believe every song on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album is full of clues suggesting Paul’s death. In this album, The Beatles had assembled a new band with an imaginary member named Billy Shears. Believers of the conspiracy think that this fictional member was named for Paul’s beatlesreplacement. In the song “A Day in the Life,” the lyrics say: “he blew his mind out in a car.” When you play the song “I’m So Tired” backwards, you hear the lines “Paul is dead, miss him, miss him.” At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John Lennon sings, “I buried Paul,” though he later claims to have said “cranberry sauce” and “I’m very bored.” Believers in the Paul-is-dead conspiracy also find their proof in the backwards loops of songs and on album covers, which show things like raw meat and doll limbs (1966’s Yesterday and Today). Finally, on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, there is a yellow wreath of flowers in the shape of a bass guitar, which believers think stands for a memorial to the real Paul McCartney.

This famous conspiracy was developed in the 1960s but resurfaced after several websites claimed that Ringo Starr admitted to hiding Paul’s death in a recent, secret interview, according to United Kingdom’s The Mirror. Other prestigious publications, Time magazine being one of them, have published articles on this famed conspiracy. When I hear about things like this, I wonder how people find time to comb over everything Beatles in search for proof that today’s Paul McCartney is actually one lucky phony named Billy Shears. Apparently, because the Paul McCartney on the cover of the Beatles’ album Abbey Road is barefoot, means that he had died three years earlier.

Think these Paul-is-dead believers are off their rockers? Beatlemania sparked some even crazier conspiracy theories over the years: All of the Beatles died and were secretly replaced—except for Paul McCartney, several different imposters have acted as the real Beatles over the years, and my personal favorite, the illuminati formed the band in attempt to hypnotize youth listeners with subliminal messages advocating drug use which would alter their personalities. Others believe that the band members murdered their original drummer, Pete Best, and that the band has several songs that they’ve kept hidden in the event that they ever need more money,

Reading up on the madness that surrounds Beatle conspiracy theories, I began to wonder, are there any equally wild conspiracy theories about what we consider “classic” literature? So naturally I typed “literary conspiracy theories” into a Google search and not shockingly came across about 683 thousand results about classic literary characters, plotlines, settings, authors, and just about anything else you could think of.

rowlingAccording to Norwegian filmmaker Nine Grunfeld, J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter series, does not exist. Grunfeld believes that no average working mom could become this idolized author, who published seven novels in ten years and sold over 250 million copies internationally. According to Grunfeld, there is no possible way that a nobody of an author could accomplish what “J. K. Rowling” has accomplished. Instead, the face we all know as the author of Harry Potter is just an actress who is the face for an entire team of writers.

Some theorists believe that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, two of the most famous fantasy authors of all time, were both members of the Occult and were using their fantasy novels to prepare the world for the New World that was coming. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is claimed to have been an adapted version of a Wiccan text called The Book of Shadows. And Lewis, whose famous lion character Aslan is often called a Jesus-figure, is actually alluding to pagan deities. Theorists argue that in order to practice witchcraft, one must read all of C.S. Lewis’ works.

It’s only fitting that nobody knows how Edgar Allan Poe died. He arrived in Baltimore on October 3, 1849 wearing someone else’s clothes and acting delirious and strange. He mysteriously died four days later. One of the most widely-believed theories surrounding Poe’s death claims that Poe was kidnapped during election season. The kidnappers beat him and got him drunk, then took him to the polls and forced him to vote for their preferred candidate multiple times. The kidnappers then swapped around all of their hostages’ clothes so that none of them would be recognized and jailed for rigging the elections.

lennon Finally, and most interestingly, some people actually believe that author Stephen King murdered John Lennon. In a book called Stephen King Shot John Lennon, author Steve Lightfoot argues that Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan hired King as their henchman to kill John Lennon and end his peace protests once and for all. According to the conspiracy theorists, Mark David Chapman, the man who was blamed for killing John Lennon, was just an actor who was paid to take responsibility for the murder. There is a famous picture of John Lennon giving his alleged murderer, Chapman, his autograph mere hours prior to his murder, which is one of Lightfoot’s biggest supporting arguments. Lightfoot says that he has received multiple threatening letters from King to keep him from spreading information about the murder.

Conspiracy theories are mind-boggling and make me wonder how people come up with these crazy ideas. In the end, however, I guess you could ask the same question of fiction writers because, as I found in my research, reading about these conspiracies is like reading a flash-detective story, where all of the clues are laid out to justify the outcome of the mystery.

–Emily Flippo

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Poetry Off the Record?

I recently finished two collections of essays by magician and libertarian firebrand Penn Jillette, God, No! Signs You Might Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales and Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday (spoiler alert: Mr. Jillette does not like religion). In both books, Mr. Jillette discusses his love of collecting recordings produced by “song-poem” companies—essentially, scam companies that you could pay to take your poetry, have it set to music, and recorded by otherwise out-of-work musicians. Most of these recordings, Jillette informs us, are completely unlistenable, though he does admit that a few are truly beautiful.

Jillette’s odd choice of hobby aside, the notion of these “song-poems” fascinates me, in no small part because it highlights the odd relationship between what we call “songs” and what we call “poetry.” Where does one begin and the other end? Are all song lyrics poems, or does the presence of music accompaniment automatically exclude a set of lyrics from being High Art and thus Real Poetry?

I’d imagine that if you were to ask any random person on the street if songwriters can be considered poets, they would respond that most do not, though they might concede that a few favorite artists are creative and intelligent enough to earn that title. Bob Dylan in particular has often been called a poet; he has been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and no less an authority on poetry than Allen Ginsburg declared the lyrics of Dylan’s 1975 track “Idiot Wind” to be the “great disillusioned national rhyme.” Andre Codrescu, himself a poet and commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered, even praised Dylan as “the best living American poet there is, man!”

Dylan himself is surprisingly obtuse about whether he considers himself a poet. In his memoir Chronicles, Volume 1, he notes at one point that in his early years “I wasn’t yet the poet musician that I would become.” When explicitly asked the question “Do you consider yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?” during a 1965 press conference, however, Dylan replied, “Oh, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y’know.” Frustratingly, when the interviewer asks why, Dylan only responds, “Oh, I don’t think we have enough time to really go into that.”

The New York Times ran an entire Sunday Book Review feature on the topic of whether Dylan’s lyrical genius qualified him as a poet. In the article, one of the columnists, Francine Prose, rejects the notion that Dylan can be categorized at all, explaining, “He’s the heir, the unlikely offspring of Arthur Rimbaud and Walt Whitman. But he’s neither Rimbaud nor Whitman. He’s Bob Dylan. Is he a poet or a songwriter? The same answer applies: He’s Bob Dylan.”

Leonard Cohen. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Leonard Cohen. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Complicating this issue are those rare artists who wear both hats: they not only write their own song lyrics, but they also take on additional poetry projects on the side. The prolific and influential musician Leonard Cohen is famous for his moving and deep lyrics—if I had to name any single musical artist whose song lyrics I consider to qualify as poetry, I would have to choose Cohen. Interestingly enough, however, Cohen does appear to make a distinction between when he is creating art as a songwriter and when is being a poet. He told Rolling Stone in a recent interview that he writes a good deal of poetry that is not suitable for song lyrics, but that he creates simply because he enjoys the process. This does not mean that Cohen keeps all his poetry for himself, however. In between putting out albums, he has released twelve books of poetry, perhaps the oddest of which is his third collection, entitled Flowers for Hitler.

So does the fact that Cohen releases books of poetry mean that his songs cannot be poetry? The fact that Cohen himself sees them as different pursuits has to carry some weight; I’d personally feel uncomfortable calling a work of art “poetry” if the artist himself did not consider it to be so.

Another songwriter who blurs the line between performance artist and poet is inimitable Tom Waits. Tom Waits’s lyrics are both bleak and beautiful, and I would have no problem declaring them to be “real poetry.” I’m hardly the only one—after the simultaneous release of two Waits albums, “Alice” and “Blood Money,” The New York Times declared Waits to be “a poet of outcasts.” Waits, however, would probably not take so kindly to being labeled a poet, telling an interviewer in 1975, “Poetry is a very dangerous word [ . . . ] I don’t like the stigma that comes with being called a poet—so I call what I’m doing an improvisational adventure or an inebriational travelogue. “

waits

“Poet of the Outcasts” Tom Waits. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps Waits’s attitude toward poetry has calmed somewhat since then, as in 2011 he collaborated with photojournalist Michael O’Brien to create Hard Ground, which unites O’Brien’s photographs of homeless individuals and excerpts of Wait’s poetry to powerful effect. That same year, Waits released a limited-run chapbook containing a single extended poem called “Seeds on Hard Ground.” The poem meditated on themes of poverty and homelessness, and the proceeds from the sale of the book went to homeless services.

At the risk of sounding like a snob, I think it’s fair to say that most music you hear on the radio today would not under any definition qualify as poetry. But amidst all the sound and fury, I believe that true poetry can be found in the best lyrics of talented songwriters like Dylan, Cohen, and Waits.

–Ryan Scott

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Historical Hoaxes

twain2Mark Twain wrote in his novel Pudd’nhead Wilson, “April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.” April Fools’ Day has been popular since the 1800s, but pranks themselves have been around since at least the Middle Ages. Some famous jokes throughout history have been literary in nature, while others were carried out by well-known authors and poets of the time.

One widespread April Fools’ prank had to do with the origin of the holiday itself. In 1983, Joseph Boskin, a history professor at Boston University, made up an explanation about the beginnings of the day. He said that the holiday started in Constantine’s time. In his version of the origin, a group of jesters challenged the emperor, saying that they could run the empire better than he could. Constantine then let a jester be king for a day, and that jester passed a law saying that for that day, everyone should act absurd. That law then turned into an annual tradition. Boskin said of the story, “In a way, it was a very serious day. In those time fools were really wise men. It was the role of jesters to put things in perspective with humor.” When the Associated Press got wind of this explanation, the word spread, and many newspapers printed the story. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that they realized their story about April Fools’ Day was an April Fools’ joke itself.

trickersNot all pranksters throughout history have stuck to April Fools’ Day to pull off their hoaxes. At the age of 16, Benjamin Franklin posed as a woman and wrote letters to the newspaper his brother ran, The New England Courant. Under the name of Silence Dogood, and using forged handwriting, Franklin played the part of the middle-aged widow for a six-month period. His brother never caught on. In his autobiography, Franklin wrote of the arrival of each letter: “They read it, commented on it in my Hearing, and I had the exquisite Pleasure, of finding it met with their Approbation, and that in their different Guesses at the Author none were named but Men of some Character among us for Learning and Ingenuity.” Franklin eventually came clean after writing fourteen of the letters.

Famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, husband of Mary Shelley, also partook in pranks in his youth. His wife once wrote of him, “From his earliest years, all his amusements and occupations were of a daring, and in one sense of the term, lawless nature.” He attended Eton as a teenager, and while there he acted on this “daring” nature. He enjoyed setting fire to trees on campus, but one time he took his prank a step further by using gunpowder. Needless to say, the tree blew up, and Shelley got into trouble. Shelley’s fellow students, however, found the incident amusing, so much so that they wrote a poem about it.

More recently, Willie Morris, editor of Harper’s Magazine in the 1960s and bestselling memoirist, pulled a prank involving his dog, Skip, when he was younger. While driving one afternoon, he ducked down beneath the dashboard and propped Skip up against the steering wheel, so it would look to passersby as if Skip were driving the car. This caused one man to fall out of his chair, and Morris liked the reaction so much that he repeated the joke one Sunday morning as people were leaving church. A hush fell over the crowd as Morris and Skip drove by, and Morris later wrote of the incident, “It was as if the very spectacle of Old Skip driving that green DeSoto were inscrutable, celestial, and preordained.”

spaghettiAnd of course, no list of pranks would be complete without what The Museum of Hoaxes considers to be the greatest April Fools’ joke of all time: the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. On April 1, 1957, a British news show broadcasted a segment showing the harvesting of spaghetti in Switzerland. A family was picking spaghetti right off of trees, and the video clip included the phrase, “For those who love this dish, there’s nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti.” Viewers immediately responded, some wondering where they could buy their own spaghetti tree.

So, this April Fools’ Day, use some of the above pranks for guidance or come up with your own practical jokes to play on friends and family members, and continue this tradition that so many literary greats have participated in.

— Cara Scott

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Literature as an Art Form and Historical Actor

Throughout my college experience, I have often found the overlaps between my undergrad focus in history and my passion for literature. Kuper-free_speechBy the first line of a poem or a novel, I begin to dig deeper to try to understand its historical context, picturing the author as a historical actor or actress, inevitably influenced by his or her particular time and place. During my history seminar last semester, my extended research project focused on The New York Times v. Sullivan and the cases impact on the legal history of the Civil Rights Movement. Last week marked the 51st anniversary of the case and I have found myself, once again, combining my interests of literature and history, assessing how the case and its legacy of free speech relates to the publication of literature. While the majority of Americans view literature as a form of entertainment or art, literature has always been an effective and crucial actor in history. The New York Times v. Sullivan reveals the importance of the free press and journalism’s ability to bring about change, yet literature is just as much of a catalyst.

The case began in 1961, when The New York Times published an advertisement that supported Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement that was rapidly spreading into Alabama. The ad caused uproar amongst Montgomery state officials. L.T. Sullivan, head of the police force, sued the New York Times for libel—claiming that there were intentional, defamatory errors throughout the ad, while in reality there were only one or two of meaningless, accidental errors in the text. Sullivan won $5 million in damages in an Alabama court with his ability to manipulate libel law. He and other southern officials in the Deep South began to use libel law as a legal means of massive resistance. These tactics extended to literature, and Alabama officials even brought an author to court for his children’s book about a black and white rabbit. While free speech under the First Amendment forbade the enactment of censorship laws, they realized that newspapers would stay away from reporting on racial issues in the South if they were threatened with lawsuits and damages large enough to destroy them.

new_york_times_605_605Fortunately, The New York Times appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the decision of the Alabama Court. The Court took the necessary measures to protect the rights of publications, understanding the importance of free speech in raising awareness and ensuring democracy, especially during at a time like the Civil Rights Movement.

While it is easy to see the case within the historical context of the Civil Rights Movement, it is fascinating to take a broader look and revisit the overall importance of writing as a fundamental tool to inspire change in history. The written word in the U.S. has not always been as unrestricted as it is today, and nearly half a century ago, writers who chose to publish controversial works often feared lawsuits. Especially with the birth of the Digital Age, publications are so unrestricted that these concepts seem completely foreign. Yet, the Sullivan case resulted in a landmark decision and its legacy shows us the importance of the free press to democracy.

I have spent much time considering how literature specifically, like journalism, is a tool to inspire change. Through focusing on history over the past four years, I have realized that reading literature is much more than a form of leisure. The ability of writing to raise awareness and inspire real action extends beyond journalism and certainly applies to literature as well. While journalism is undoubtedly an effective and essential tool for communication and certainly raises awareness of current events, literature has the unique ability to reach a deeper level, a depth necessary to truly open our eyes and bring about fundamental change. Novelists and poets, in a way, can more effectively reach and touch a broader audience than the press. Especially in today’s overly polarized political climate, we often question the authenticity of a news article, assuming it is the product of a bias news source, politically aligned to the left or the right. Well-written works of literature, at least for me, immediately seem far more genuine, and I fully let down my guard when beginning a poem or a novel.

I am quick to begin a work of literature for pleasure; whereas I often times hesitate before reading the news, fearing that it will arouse pessimism and distrust. At the same time, literature is emotionally engaging and has the power to pull readers into the heart of an issue. Literature can bring us to tears in an instant—which a news article rarely does—yet we approach literature lightly and easily. Although often based on a completely fictitious plot and characters, when a book is within a certain historical context or surrounded by a certain social or political issue we are able to bring the story to life in our imagination, which at times challenges us to alter our perspectives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile we focus on the freedom of the press, freedom of all types of writing are critical to democracy. To Kill a Mockingbird, which is now a required read in most southern classrooms, was widely forbidden across the South. At the time, it was clear that the moving and authentic words of the story would inevitably cause even proponents of “separate but equal” to question their beliefs. After reading the novel, individuals across the nation altered their views, including James Carville who exclaimed, “It is because seeing things in writing brings change.” He continued that once he picked up the book, he immediately knew Harper Lee was right and he was wrong.

Literature often times focuses on simplicity and usually does not have the intent of completely transforming the reader’s outlook on serious issues. Yet, well-written literature always reveals something to us that is worth revealing. Whether it exposes racial injustice through To Kill a Mockingbird, uncovers the loneliness that often comes with wealth through The Great Gatsby, or the value of family in hardships through The Grapes of Wrath, literature targets what is truly human within us. It is relatable and emotionally engaging—and that is what touches us to the point of change and action.

While we often associate freedom of speech with journalism, and believe that democracy relies upon the circulation of news stories centered on serious and factual political or social issues, literature is a tool that is just as, if not more, effective in revealing truths and inspiring change. It lures its audience through entertainment, but goes beyond entertainment and introduces ideas and beliefs in a relatable way, effectively compelling readers to challenge preconceived notions and perspectives.

–Katie Nell Taylor

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NEW SHENANDOAH ISSUE Vol. 64, No. 2 Now open to the public

Poems, essays, reviews, flash fictions, short stories and poems, an interview with Tim Seibles, as well as new poems by Tim.  And the art of Suzanne Stryk.  Follow the links on the left-hand side of the homepage.

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Is Any New Literature Actually New?

With the recent cinderellaresurgence in popularity of Cinderella, I’ve been thinking of the original tale that I remember reading and watching in my youth. From the classic Walt Disney version, to the Rodgers and Hammerstein version with its skewed view of how interracial couples produce children, I remember the hope I used to feel, that one-day, I too would find my Prince Charming and become the princess I thought my name entitled me to one day be. To be fair, at this point in my life I don’t think I quite realized that other people could also have a name that meant princess. But now, as I think of the fairytale from my childhood the feminist in me sees another side of the tale and the literature lover within me sees patterns.

When I think of Cinderella, I think of the fact that women are separated into innocent princesses and evil stepmothers. I think of how it instills the idea of the makeover being necessary for a woman to catch the eye of a man. I think of the fact that the entire goal of the heroine of this tale is to meet a man who can save her by marrying her. But ultimately, when I think of this fairytale, I also think of how it, and famous fairytales like it, has influenced much of the literature that has come after it. There may be strong, independent women who came before this fairytale princess, the Wife of Bath from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Biblical Judith, but it is not these women that young girls grow up idealizing. Little girls worship princesses and this does not stop when these women stop being children, it continues as the fairytales they grew up with follow them into adulthood.

cinderella fifty shadesWhen I think of books like Pride and Prejudice or even the hot topic book of the last few years, Fifty Shades of Grey, there are still fairytale undertones in each of them, Cinderella undertones specifically since I’ve been discussing that fairytale in particular in this blog. When considering all three of these tales it is readily visible that all three depict females in less well off financial situations who meet wealthy men who eventually help them in some way (either by saving them from evil stepmothers, helping save their sisters from reputational ruin, and helping save them from the monotonous life of postgrad). The only major differences that can be seen between these three tales are setting, familiar circumstances, a glass slipper, and a few whips and chains.

Though I was interested in seeing the similarities and minute differences between novels and many of my favorite fairytales, I was more interested in how I struggled to come up with novels that were in no way impacted by fairytales. I could think of horror novels and short stories, but many of these can been seen as takes on the original versions of fairytales. In the original fairytales there was rape in Sleeping Beauty, cannibalism in Little Red Riding Hood, women cutting off parts of their feet like something out of a Saw movie in Cinderella, and undertones of necrophilia in Snow White. So even these types of stories take bits from the tales that came before them.

But this process is cyclical. Even if I could think of stories that aren’t based on other stories I’ve read before, I haven’t read everything the world has to offer and never could. Even if I found some obscure novel or even piece of nonfiction, there is probably someone who has written a story just like it before or who has lived through similar experiences and written about it. This brings me my real overarching question, however. If recent literature all has some basis in the books and stories that came before them, can any new books actually be considered new? Is there any such thing as a new piece of literature?

Samuel Clemens, known as Mark Twain to most of the world, has been quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.new ideas We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” If Clemens is correct, then everything that has ever been thought, seen, or written has been thought, seen, or been written before. While I agree with Clemens in part of his argument, I also have a little rebuttal. Indeed, I agree with Clemens when he says that everything is just the “same old pieces or colored glass” and they are all just being turned “and making new combinations indefinitely,” but doesn’t this undermine the concept that there are no new ideas? Isn’t the idea to rearrange the pieces of glass into new formations new in and of itself? So even if new books take ideas from old fairytales or biblical stories, aren’t they new in the inventive execution of these old ideas? I think they are. I think that the ability of authors to piece old storylines together into new tales is what makes literature a creative art form. Even if parts of the story have been written before, they are still new in how those bits and pieces fit together. They are still new to the world in some way or another and that is one of the reasons why I continue writing and reading. I hope that some day I can write or read something that is exorbitantly different than what has come before it.

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Shenandoah 64, 2 COMING NEXT WEEK.

POETRY//  mysterious fall of blackbirds and the sins of the past/ Graybeal-Gowen winner “May” by Juliana Daugherty/ a relief pitcher picks up the fiddle/ meditative and spiritual poems/ Davis McCombs on the mysteries of fox passage /Wild Turkeys and Marianne Moore/ Bobby Rogers on Elvis, Hank and wondrous births / Tom Reiter, Jeff Mock, Carol Frost and more/ an interview with Tim Siebels/ Kempf on the associative mode in contemporary poetry

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Inspirational Libations

Edogvery writer has his or her own routine. When I sit down to write anything, from a short reporting story to a 20-page research paper, I always sit in the same spot at the head of my dining room table with my pajamas and slippers on. I always have some sort of snack, usually something chocolatey. But, that’s not where my writing routine stops. I also can’t write without a jumbo glass of water with crushed ice. My dog is almost always at my side. So, in pursuit of an intriguing post, I asked myself, what do the most famous of authors do to prepare themselves to write?

Many writers are notorious for going straight to alcohol for inspiration—but do they have a favorite food? Or a favorite place? Can writers be inspired by specific foods and drinks? There’s nothing I like better than a great book and a delectable meal. So, are foods, drinks, and literature all connected?

In my research, I found tons of bar-books, filled with tidbits and recipes about writers and their favorite cocktails. However, some articles also included food preferences and other routines writers followed before sitting down to write.

After having dinner and going to sleep at 6 p.m., French author Honoré de Balzac woke up at 1 a.m. every morning to write. After writing for a while, he then took a short nap, and upon awaking would start writing again. It is said that in order to stick to this military schedule, Balzac drank cups upon cups of black coffee, sometimes up to fifty cups daily—it is rumored he sometimes even ate straight coffee grounds.

Stephen King, a more recent kingauthor, depends on cheesecake and beer to get his ideas flowing. King says that his sweet tooth has been passed down to his son, who eats crème brûlée for writing inspiration. King never goes to bars to drink because he says,“[bars are] full of assholes like me.” He drinks so much to write, that he claims to not remember writing his novel Cujo. One of King’s biggest fears is that sobriety will lead to the loss of his creativity.

Maya Angelou went to a hotel every day at 6:30 in the morning and checked into a room to write without any distractions, bringing only a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of sherry.

Carson McCuller’s favorite indulgence while writing was a combination of hot tea and sherry, a drink she called “sonnie boy”. She often claimed that it was just tea in her thermos and drank it throughout the workday.

Cat’s Cradle author Kurt Vonnegut drinks a cheap scotch and water daily at exactly 5:30 pm in order to “numb [his] twanging intellect.”

Truman Capote refused to write using a typewriter. He only wrote by hand and with a cigar and beverage nearby. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy,” Capote said. “I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.”

authorAgatha Christie supposedly always wrote after bathing in a large, footed tub while eating apples. However, when Victorian-style bathtubs became harder to come across, she quit the habit completely.

Daniel Handler, who writes under the name Lemony Snicket, only eats healthy food at his desk. He works in a distraction-free zone, with only a window as a decoration.

Joyce Carol Oates told The Paris Review that she will not eat a bite of anything until she’s finished her writing for the day. “Sometimes the writing goes so smoothly that I don’t take a break for many hours—and consequently have breakfast at two or three in the afternoon on good days,” she said.

According to his biographer, Hunter S. Thompson’s routine relied on cocaine and food while writing. He said, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

smokerGreat Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald preferred gin because he believed that gin was the only liquor people couldn’t smell on someone’s breath. He had a notoriously small tolerance and lived the drunken lifestyle that is so often associated with the roaring twenties. Apparently he and his wife, Zelda, were infamous pranksters, doing things like swimming in the fountain at the Plaza, going to parties in pajamas, and boiling their party guests’ watches in tomato soup.

How many writers, or people in general who don’t even know that they’re gifted writers, miss out on their untapped potential to write something powerful and influential? Sometimes we assume that people are born with great talents and blessed with the streak of genius it takes someone to produce a work of art that has the power to change people’s outlook on the world. How many of us have the capability to write something amazing but our ideas are stuck deep down inside, impossible to grasp and produce? What makes writers be able to dig out those ideas, embellish them and share them with anyone willing to read their work? From my own experience, no matter what I’m writing, it’s not until I go to my own writing spot and follow my own routine that I can fish deep down and really be creative and inventive with my thoughts and ideas. However, along with routine comes discipline; finding your routine takes trial-and-error. You’ve got to figure out what does and what does not draw out your creative drive, what routine you actually enjoy. Some of the most famous writers mentioned above have the most specific and personal of routines—maybe that’s the key to good writing.

— Emily Flippo

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Read it Again, Sam

Looking through my bookshelf is effectively viewing a timeline of my life thus far as a reader. Some of the “chapter books” I began savoring as a first grader sit, collecting dust, not reread since I discovered Harry Potter. Then there is, of course, the Harry Potter series, all seven books, the companion books written by JK Rowling, and an extra copy of the third one, because it was my favorite book for at least five years. There are Babysitters Club novels, Agatha Christie mysteries, and Lee Child thrillers. Among the middle and high school-assigned readings are the ones I read the obligatory time, if even that, and the ones that became instant favorites on my shelf. The ones that I loved but haven’t touched since and the ones with pages falling out from use. Two books have severe water damage—a young adult novel that a friend borrowed and then returned after dropping it in the bathtub, and one that I’ve cried while reading so many times over the years that it may as well also been plunged into a full body of water.

Dedicated readers have a few books on the shelf that they just know: exact scenes, chapters, pages, even lines that have stuck with them for years. They can select a familiar spine, feel its familiar weight in their hand, and flip almost effortlessly to their pages of choice. Rereading may be a guilty pleasure of sorts, but it also offers a lot of novelty and value. Just ask any English teacher.

ClassicBookStack_zps38bf6f0dMy parents used to hate that I reread books. They wanted for me to keep expanding my library and literary education. I distinctly remember being “caught” rereading a book and receiving a bizarre chastisement from my mother. She argued that there was no merit, no growth, from reading a book more than once. Fast forward to high school English classes, where standard procedure involves reading a book twice, annotating, highlighting, bookmarking key passages, skimming notes for themes and motifs, and close reading certain pages.

 Clearly, this exhibits that there is value in rereading; it is simply not expected that someone will glean all the information a book has to offer from just one go through. An article published on bustle.com illustrates a similar mindset to mine—the author is in love with second and third and tenth readings of her favorite books, and with a mother who simply “can’t” do it. She links to a bbc.com article that deems rereading a “guilty pleasure” and a “security blanket.” Revisiting a childhood library probably corresponds more with this idea. You probably will not discover a profound literary statement reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Rereading a novel assigned in middle or high school though, with added years and a broader vocabulary and just a different perspective, can totally change a person’s perceptions of a book. In some ways, rereading a book is also more challenging because the surprise and novelty is gone. While a second read offers the comfort of familiarity, it also grants the reader a chance, even a dare, to look further and think more deeply.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Prisoner_of_Azkaban_(US_cover)

I have read each of my favorite books time and time again, with new interpretations and observations and life experiences coloring the way they are read. Just like children like to hear their favorite bedtime stories, I will always love flipping through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The plot, the characters, and the magical setting are of course, captivating for young readers, but only in a more mature rereading do themes and motifs, even hidden meanings, begin to surface. For example, Prisoner of Azkaban draws strongly on themes of innocence and justice among many different plot lines. It is also wrought with symbolism in character names and animals. Until the book is experienced through the lens of a reader who knows to think more deeply and critically, it’s just about a bunch of kids on brooms and an escaped murderer. Just like a film enjoyed by people of all ages, or a work of abstract art, many of the more intricate nuances go unnoticed by a young or unfamiliar viewer. A second impression reveals a deeper look, guided by the knowledge that comes from age and learned approaches to viewing and reading.  Would you debate the merits of listening to a piece of music more than once, or seeing a famous Van Gogh more than once?  Would anyone question the merits of rereading, say, the Bible?

Revisiting a piece of writing certainly provides a different experience then the first read-through and creates an exciting mix of familiarity and new discoveries. So the question is, how many times have you read your favorite?

— Emily Danzig

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Writers’ Best Friends

On April 5, 1905, the Kansas City Star ran the following post about a lost cat: “Large and intensely black; thick, velvety fur; has a faint fringe of white hair acrosstwain his chest; not easy to find in ordinary light.” The author of this advertisement? None other than Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, himself. Though this specific ad was about his beloved cat Bambino, Twain collected a variety of other cats throughout the years as well. He loved cats so much that he once said, “I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.” Twain, however, is not the only writer who fancied feline friendship.

Ernest Hemingway also enjoyed the companionship of cats. He had a six-toed white cat named Snowball, among others. Cats even made their way into his famous work For Whom the Bell Tolls: “No animal has more liberty than the cat, but it buries the mess it makes. The cat is the best anarchist.” hemingwayTo this day, visitors can find more than 50 six-toed (polydactyl, to use the technical term) cats roaming around Hemingway’s home in Key West. It is said that they are the descendants of dear old Snowball.

Joyce Carol Oates has even gone as far as crediting her cat for helping her write. She has said, “I write so much because my cat sits on my lap. She purrs so I don’t want to get up. She’s so much more calming than my husband.”

So what is it with writers and their cats? Why do so many choose to spend their time with those of the feline persuasion? Perhaps, as Oates said, cats encourage writing with their refusal to be dislodged from their resting places. Maybe they dissuade writers’ block with their mysterious air and playful antics. I certainly find cats to be the ideal writing companions. Their warm bodies create a cozy environment and their purring has a calming effect, making for a low-stress writing atmosphere. I can see this being the reason that authors for generations have adored their meowing muses.

It isn’t only cats that steal a place in writers’ hearts, however. Canine companions have been just as present throughout history. Emily Brontë, a great animal lover, had a trusty mastiff sidekick named Keeper. Some even argue that Emily’s adoration of all creatures influenced her writing in Wuthering Heights, as many characters in the novel have quite animalistic qualities. Her contemporary, Emily Dickinson, also had a love for dogs. Dickinson once said, “Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell.”

HuxleyA more recent writer shared his predecessors’ preference for pups. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, once explained “the constant popularity of dogs” by saying, “To his dog, every man is Napoleon.” This quote could explain why some writers keep pooches as pets. Take a survey of any authors and chances are some are going to say they write because they want to make an impact on their readers or even on the world. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald put it best when he said, “You don’t write because you want to say something; you write because you’ve got something to say.” Keeping a dog as a pet allows authors to experience that feeling of heroism on a smaller scale.

Or maybe writers simply have dogs because they bring a certain level of joy that encourages the writing process. Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, asked, “Why does watching a dog be a dog fill one with happiness?” Just as cats inspire writers with their furtiveness, dogs can hearten writers’ work with their blatantly unconditional love and loyalty. Conversely, dogs can reveal the negative side of human nature as well. As John Steinbeck said after years with his treasured poodle, Charley, “I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.” While dogs do not necessarily create the same relaxed atmosphere that cats do, I find their constant cheerfulness to be a definite mood-booster, something that always helps with my writing.

Dogs and cats are not the only pets that have kept famous writers company, however. Lord Byron, 19th century poet, housed a pet bear during his time at Cambridge, even walking it through campus on a leashoconnor. And let us not forget about Flannery O’Connor and the famed peacocks that kept her company. She once wrote of them, “Visitors to our place, instead of being barked at by dogs rushing from under our porch, are squalled at by peacocks whose blue necks and crested heads pop up from behind tufts of grass, peer out of bushes, and crane downward from the roof of the house, where the bird has flown, perhaps for the view.”

So, while many authors may use historical figures or real-life acquaintances for inspiration in their writing, some turn instead to their furrier pals, giving a new perspective on the phrase “man’s best friend.”

— Cara Scott

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