Tag Archives: books

Blank pages waiting to be written on

a blank notebook page

A blank piece of paper is an empty canvas just waiting to be filled with imaginative musings.

Every time I go to a Dollar Tree or a Big Lots or somewhere like that, I have to buy a spiral-bound notebook. It’s a compulsion.

It’s even gotten to where I have to avoid the school supplies aisle in the supermarket. I always end up with a Spiderman or Hello Kitty notebook in my cart, and then I have a hard time making eye contact with the cashier during checkout.

I’d probably feel less embarrassed buying Preparation H.

And heaven forbid I spot an Office Depot or a Staples along the highway. That’d be like an alcoholic stumbling onto a Budweiser warehouse. If I do see an office-supply store, I have to swerve the car Steve McQueen-style and speed down a side street.

I feel like Mel Gibson in that movie Conspiracy Theory, where he’s programmed to buy endless copies of Catcher in the Rye.

Maybe I was once a CIA operative whose memory was erased, and instead of having covert-ops skills, I was a voracious note-taker. If they made a movie about me, it would be Tom Cruise (or Will Ferrell; whoever’s available) dropping into the dense jungles of some war-torn foreign country. Flexing his gargantuan biceps, he’d flip open his tattered journal and start scribbling furiously with a leaky pen. (I can tell you from personal experience, it’s a pain getting ink smeared on your gargantuan biceps.)

I threw out a bunch of notebooks the other day, because it was clear I didn’t really need them. Each one was half-filled with half-baked ideas, blog posts that went nowhere, and stories I started but didn’t really want to finish.

That’s not to say they were a waste, though. After all, a rose that blossoms and wilts prematurely is prettier than a rose that never blooms at all. I’d rather scrawl down an idea and throw it away later than to have it flicker through my mind and never have a record of it. I’ve lost a lot of great ideas that way. (Well, I’d like to think they were great, but I might be biased.)

I like to buy notebooks because I love to write. All those blank pages are a canvas just waiting to be filled with a writer’s wonderful prose.

When I see a blank notebook, I’m not seeing the book itself. Rather, I’m seeing all of its imaginative potential. A blank notebook can be a novel, a compilation of essays, a collection of ideas. You can doodle in it, jot down an observation on the fly, record a snippet of a conversation you overheard on the bus.

A notebook isn’t just a stack of blank, lined paper. It’s a potential tapestry of unfettered human thought.

In his introduction to The Gunslinger, the first book in his Dark Tower series, Stephen King wrote how the whole novel came about because of yellow paper. He worked in a college library with his future wife, Tabitha, and they each got a package of colored paper.

To him, that ream of paper was a blank canvas just waiting to be filled with imaginative musings. He took it home, put a sheet in the typewriter, and dashed out the first sentence to what would become not only a novel, but a best-selling series.

I feel the same way about blank paper, which is why I love notebooks. They make me want to create – to write.

It may sound weird, but the mere sight of a blank notebook excites me. My imagination starts going in several different directions, and I start daydreaming about how I could fill all those pages with chapters of the Great American Novel. (Or fart jokes; whichever leaps to mind first.)

To me, a notebook is a blank canvas. And I think all of us have our own version of a blank canvas – something we do that brings joy to others and enriches our everyday existence.

For a gardener, a planter of topsoil is a blank canvas.

For a decorator, an empty room is a blank canvas.

For a landscaper, a patch of weeds is a blank canvas.

For a painter, a blank canvas is … well, a blank canvas.

We all have our own version of a blank canvas. What’s yours? 

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The top 60 Tweets of a pretentious English student 

young man studying on laptop in college campus library

Yeah, I went to school with people like this…

Even graduate students studying ecocentric literature can be social-media superstars!

Bio: I express my artistry through emotional meditations and lowercase letters. My heart is pure; my poetry, self-published.

1. If there’s a sock on the door, don’t come in. I’m busy reading Vonnegut.

2. If my beret doesn’t give away my artistic tendencies, then I’m sure the Apple logo on my laptop will.

3. A sublime exhalation of youthful exuberance, in a premature outpouring of passion. (But give me 10 minutes, and I’ll try again.)

4. I’m not arrogant. I just don’t need to take writing advice from the dude who wrote “Charlotte’s Web.”

5. Yeah, well, how many literary-fiction journals have *you* been featured in, buddy?

6. Is that a Bukowski in your book bag, or are you just happy to see me?

7. Personally, I find the em-dash more progressive than the semicolon.

8. How endearing. I went through my own period of rugged Hemingway terseness back in 201.

9. We haven’t truly lived until we’ve written in the first-person-plural.

10. I’ll trade you three gently used issues of Glimmer Train for your annotated copy of “Burning Down the House.”

11. I’m not in it for the monetary compensation; I’m in it to bare my soul through the written word. (Besides, Mom pays my tuition.)

12. My tattered journal contains the scribblings of my soul. Plus, my Econ notes from yesterday’s class.

13. She left my emotional core stinging from the lash of rejection. (It also stings when I pee.)

14. I see you consistently get “it’s” and “its” confused. You need a bib to catch all the drool?

15. [Literary flirting] “So, you want to get coffee sometime? We could discuss whether Truman Capote wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.” Keep reading…

‘Catcher in the Rye’ has no point

At least that’s according to my 18-year-old self, if a recently unearthed high-school assignment is to be believed. I took an Advanced Composition course in my senior year, and one of the assignments was to pick a novel and keep a journal as we read. Because I was into baseball at the time, I selected Catcher in the Rye.

My first foray into literary criticism didn't go too well.

My first foray into literary criticism didn’t go too well. Looking back, I probably should have read the book first.

I think we were supposed to summarize the novel, as well as discuss characters and theme. Because I was an assiduous student, I took the task quite seriously:

“I’ve gathered information from other sources to serve as aids in my plot analyzing. Various Internet sites proved essential for my complete understanding of the story.”

Good work, kid. Nobody can dare question your research when you’re sourcing “various Internet sites.”

The assignment continues:

“I believe Catcher in the Rye addresses some deep, psychological issues that many people don’t recognize when reading the story. For example, when reading the lengthy summaries and personal commentaries I found regarding the book, there was not one mention of Holden’s parents anywhere. Holden refers to his father as a wealthy corporate lawyer who’s busy all the time and his mother as a nervous wreck ever since his little brother Allie passed away. Could it be that Holden’s parents don’t pay much attention to him? Is this why he performs poorly academically and is confused about the world surrounding him?”

Obviously, some deep thinking was going on here. I can picture myself hunkered over the keyboard of my Atari ST, the poetry flowing from my fingertips in an effortless display of academic dexterity. An A surely awaited me.

“It’s a hard thing to draw quotes and examples from the story when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.”

Or if you haven’t read the book because because you were too busy playing Tomb Raider II all weekend. But best not to mention that little tidbit in your paper.

“In general, people seem to like books with lots of blood and guts; conflicts that keep the reader in suspense and make him sigh with relief at the end of the book.”

I’m impressed that I used a semicolon correctly, but that sexist pronoun could have used a little tweaking. Put a red mark there.

“Perhaps J.D. Salinger wrote the book without any specific purpose in mind, hoping that his readers would hear what they wanted to hear through his words.”

Interesting theory. So Salinger had no thoughts whatsoever when he sat down to write? No plot outline, no theme, no characters — nothing he wanted to say? The idea was just to write down a bunch of words and hope that audiences gleaned whatever meaning they wanted to? It’s a thought-provoking argument, for sure, though it may have one or two itsy-bitsy minor holes. Not trying to be negative — I’m just saying.

What holes, you ask? Well, (A.) It’s a bullshit theory with no basis in reality whatsoever, and (B.) What the hell were you smoking?

“So when asked to describe the theme of the book, I’m hopelessly lost. Many people with better insight than me have unearthed their own morals for the story, and others have publicly mocked it through such media as newspaper editorials.”

Um, care to cite any of those newspaper articles that purportedly mocked Catcher in the Rye? Or did you just pull them out of your ass? Your ass? Yeah, I had a hunch. Don’t ask me how.

Excellent work, kid. A gold star awaits you. Please continue with this poetic foray into literary criticism.

“If a theme does exist to this book, it is not a clear one. No matter what conclusion I draw about the tale, it can be hotly debated by people with a similar interest in the story.”

That’s right — those hot debates about Catcher on the Rye can be downright dangerous. But that’s only if the participants have “a similar interest in the story.” As opposed to, you know, ones with a different interest in the story.

“I know it must sound like I’m giving up.”

Actually, kid, I think you gave up on page 1. But that’s only because it was nine on Sunday night, and this paper was due first thing Monday morning. Which probably explains the haphazard, I-don’t-have-a-frickin’-clue tone that emanates from the piece.

“I know how easy it is to say that the plot was too complex to successfully analyze. However, I am at a loss of words for this topic.”

Well, you’ve written a lot of words so far. It’s just that you haven’t said anything coherent. And judging by this blog, some things never change.

“I am happy to say that the author did not, in fact, have a specific purpose in mind when he wrote this novel. I don’t think there was any subtle message he was trying to hide carefully between the lines. I just believe that this was a novel that was written with the sole intent to entertain, that’s all. A good story doesn’t have to have a moral behind it, although the better ones often do.”

Kid, quit embarrassing yourself. You couldn’t detect the moral in a Berenstain Bear book.

“It’s just that Catcher in the Rye doesn’t fit into any of the normal categories that have been established to differentiate between books. It’s not a mystery, thriller, science fiction, fantasy or adventure novel. It’s just a tale about an everyday kind of kid who has some emotional problems. It’s realism in its purest form. I think people are looking for a purpose in this book that just isn’t there. If a true moral did indeed exist, you wouldn’t have all these conflicting opinions and articles written by these so-called ‘literary experts.’”

And now here’s the deeply pondered, well-argued conclusion to this epic mental exercise:

“The fact is that J.D. Salinger had no moral in mind when writing the book. He was just a short-story author who was trying to make a few extra bucks by writing a novel. Food had to get on the table somehow. Catcher in the Rye provided him with a means of surviving.”

So there you have it. Catcher in the Rye had no point other than to earn J.D. Salinger some money. The scope of this meticulously researched analysis is astounding. What academic mind could have devised such a flawless and inarguable premise? The author should consider himself an authority in the field of American literature, towering far above the mundane “literary experts” he so rightfully mocks.

Of course, when I reread Catcher in the Rye in my twenties, I came away with an entirely different viewpoint. I realized that, perhaps, Salinger was trying to do something more than “make a few extra bucks.” I realized there might have been a subtext I was missing in that Advanced Composition course so many years before. (Sort of like the way I missed prom because I couldn’t overcome the burdensome task of finding a date.)

In conclusion, I wrote:

“I suppose I should include a quote in order to satisfy the requirements for this particular [assignment].”

Sounds like a good plan: Do the bare minimum, and make sure you formally announce that you’re doing so. You know, in case the teacher hasn’t figured it out already.

“Here is a quote from Holden Caulfield himself, discussing the topic of books and their authors: ‘What really knocks me out about a [good] book is that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author who wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.’

“I would personally like to call J.D. Salinger.”

I wouldn’t bother, kid. After reading this, I doubt he’d take your call.