My Top 10 Literary Influences

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I promised I’d make things up to you, and I think this list might just do the trick. Also I have a terrible habit of coming up with great things to write about right before something (or in this case, lots of things) is (or in this case, are) due.
But I am a huge literature nerd, so I think this is appropriate. I rave about books all the time anyway, so I think I should share the pieces of literature that influenced me the most.


10. The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri

I skimmed through The Inferno in high school (I was a senior. Can you blame me?), but put in a much greater effort when it was assigned in my super-hard-and-intimidating-mythology-class-that-a-valedictorian-from-my-high-school-was-in. It paid off. If I hadn’t thoroughly read The Inferno, I might have not decided to emphasize my English major in radical religious literature.

This book also influenced me because Dante had nerve. Even though his majorly unrequited crush on Beatrice was unrequited and kind of creepy, Dante was gutsy as hell (ha!), and I really admire that. It takes a lot to criticize your own religion.

9. The Natural Order of Things, by Antonio Lobo Antunes

If you know me in real life and have ever heard me rave about Portugal, this book is why (this book is Portuguese). I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with Portugal, and I’m really hoping to go there in the near future.

This book isn’t exactly famous (at least not here), so I guess I should explain it a little. From what I remember, the story spans over several decades and has about eight narrators. It’s also one of the only postmodern books I actually like.

You should read this book – I’m not very fond of the ending, but this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Top five, definitely. It’s brilliant. Look at it, at least.

8. Ulysses, by James Joyce

This book was… an experience. I hate it and love it at the same time – it’s brilliant, but it’s just not fun to read. If you know me, then you’ve probably suffered at least 10 doses of my complaining about it. I once had a teacher who said Ulysses is a book that nobody should have to read for the first time. Now I can say that I agree with him on the whole concept of losing my Ulysses virginity. But it would be wrong of me to say it isn’t incredible. I’ll read it again later in life. I don’t think I was developed enough this go around. Joyce put an incredible amount of thought into Ulysses – nearly every word is an allusion. I hope I can have a pinch’s worth of that talent one day.

7. Cathedral, by Raymond Carver
This isn’t my absolute favorite Carver story – “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” has that spot – it was a close race, though), but it is the very first one I read. There are some works that just strike you and have so much power. For me, Cathedral is one of those pieces. Carver’s realism is just so good – if I didn’t enjoy it so much, I wouldn’t have purchased a complete anthology of his work which happens to be over 1,000 pages. Yeah… I kind of have a long way to go with that one. But I love his work! I actually tried to be Carveresque with the last short story I wrote, and it actually happens to be my best. Thanks for inspiring me, Ray.

6. The Oven Bird, by Robert Frost

I have a huge fascination with the Fall. *See numbers 5, 2, and 1 for further explanation* But this poem actually influenced me in another way too. On the day I toured UGA, I sat in on an English class that happened to be taught by my current poetry teacher (I did this on purpose). Want to take a stab at the poem we learned about that day? Yes, that’s right, The Oven Bird. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but that poem is part of the reason why I took the Milton class and most of the reason I am in the poetry class I’m taking. Robert and Susan shaped my life, guys.

And that is why I am going to be my poetry teacher when I grow up.

5. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

When I was 16, I went to Iran to the first, and as of now, only time. I found this book on my mother’s shelf and brought it to read on the plane. I had read and loved Steinbeck before (The Grapes of Wrath actually almost made this list), so I thought it would be a good choice. I was actually thrilled to find this, even though it’s a giant book. I ended up depending on this book while I was on vacation because I was parched for contact with the English language. I read it feverishly.
And oh, how I loved this book. It got me into the Fall before I even realized it!

It’s kind of funny how my taste in literature has worked out.

4. Howl, by Allen Ginsberg

I can’t think of a writer more irate and pissed than Ginsberg was, and I love him for it. Now obviously, I love this poem. I’ve seen the movie, and I’m a little obsessed with it. I listen to Ginsberg on Spotify. I have a book of essays on the poem, for god’s sake. I would have written a huge essay on Howl, but we didn’t even cover it this semester. I’m actually really upset about it. I hope that one day when I’m really pissed, I’ll remember to think like Ginsberg and just spin a beautiful web of poetry out of my anger.

3. It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini

I was in a pretty dark place when I stumbled upon this book – and the cover art is what caught my attention, so that’s why I hate the phrase “never judge a book by it’s cover.” Covers are meant to attract readers! That’s how it works!
You probably think I’m lame since there’s a movie of this book, and it’s pretty cheesy. Well I read this book years before news of a movie reached me (I’m so goddamn indie, I know).
The reason I like It’s Kind of a Funny Story so much is because I relate to Craig so much – not just because of depression, but also because of the crazy expectations he puts on himself and his masochistic thought process. And once I realized that Craig could become better, I decided that I could overcome my mental instability too.

2. Paradise Lost, by John Milton

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that Milton is my homeboy. A semester ago, all I blogged about was this poem. I have a fish named Lycidas. I’m referencing Paradise Lost in a paper that’s due next Tuesday.
But I really do love Paradise Lost. Once you read it, everything changes. I can see a Miltonian interpretation of almost everything I read because of it. Ulysses, Portrait of the Artist, the huge amount of poems I’ve had to read this semester, you name it. Oh, and Paradise Lost solidified my decision to emphasize in religious literature, so there’s that too. And it’s beautiful. Don’t forget that.

My nerd is coming out. Sorry, guys.


1. His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman

These books, guys. Yes, my top choice is a trilogy. I can explain.
Three years ago, when I was taking adolescent literature at Harvard nerd camp, I had no idea how much these books were going to shape me. I came to these books much later than I should have – by this I mean “I saw the Golden Compass movie months before I ever read the book.” And I didn’t think the film was that great, because I don’t think anybody did, but I really loved the story. I’d still watch the movie today even though it’s disappointing, out of order, and inaccurate just because I’m such a huge Philip Pullman nerd.
These books have shaped me tremendously. They have made me laugh, fawn, smile, throw The Subtle Knife at a wall, and shed some of my hardest tears. Although I didn’t know it until a few years later, they sparked my interest that turned into my major concentration. In the years since I read them, I’ve made efforts to get other people to read them in the hopes that they would be as struck as I was. I got The Golden Compass on a class curriculum in my very Catholic high school. I lent copies of the trilogy to friends – and sadly, lost a book or two in the process. I took that Milton class just so I could understand the books better. I even read these books and Paradise Lost at the same time. I think it’s safe to say that these books influenced me more than any other pieces of literature.

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Stellenbosch

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This is Stellenbosch. It’s beautiful, right?

After leaving Phinda, the four of us (me, my sister, my dad, and our friend Schalk, who lives in Stellenbosch and therefore showed us around) drove back to the Durban Airport. Our flight to Johannesburg actually got delayed for five hours because there was a crack in the plane’s windshield. It was okay, though, because we found another flight (shout-out to OneTime Air) and British Airways gave us a refund (shout-out to British Airways too, because that was really nice.) So that only left us an hour behind schedule.
And what did we do on our first night there? Oh yeah. We ate, and then we got drunk at a bar called The Mystic Boer. Well, they got drunk. I kind of took one shot of something that tasted atrocious (oh yeah, it was Patron!), looked around the room and saw lots of guys, and it made me miss mine. I am obstinately loyal, and all I really wanted to do was go back the hotel because it had heated bathroom floors and the bed… oh my god.
I slept beautifully, especially because I didn’t have to wake up at 5:00 the next day. And then I got to have coffee and French toast and fruit and yogurt (Bulgarian yogurt is the best yogurt ever, by the way) and I was so happy.

Then we went out to this place that um, has a bunch of cheetahs… I forget what it was called. All I know is that I got to pet a cheetah and his name was Joseph and I foolishly took a Doxycycline pill without a Tum so I felt really sick. Also I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures in the cage.

We thought the cheetahs there were drugged because they were so… calm. They weren’t, though. Cheetahs keep their activity to a minimum when they don’t have to do anything that involved running because running at high speeds takes up so much energy for them. Except I don’t really know how they’d get much running done in a fenced-in area.
Cheetahs also have a wonderful sense of humor, I’ve discovered.

And yes, I have to represent my country.

Stellenbosch (and greater Stellenbosch) is famous for wine and Stellenbosch University. I’ll start with the wine.
From my observations, Stellenbosch is South African wine country. And the wine is pretty good, which is saying a lot, because I can’t really drink alcohol without making a funny face and feeling shivers run down my back.
Personally, I think the cheese was better. South Africa is renowned for cheese as well. Heaven!

A giant wine bottle obviously means that my sister needs a new profile picture.

After all that, we just went back to the town and walked around a little. I think Schalk drove us around the university too. Lots of white buildings.
We made a few friends, too – part of it might have been fate, but most of it was my dad’s lack of restraint when it comes to talking about himself around people he just met. But it turned out well. We ended up going to Cape Town that night with them to see our new friend’s son’s band 3rd World Spectator play a show at a restaurant. It was pretty fun. I got to try pizza with bananas on it, which is actually really good. I knew it would be, too. And the band was great. They can do a mean cover of “Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies, and I really like their song “Ambulance.” And then I sat by a fire and fell asleep sitting upright, which was a great new accomplishment for me. Ha!
The next day we actually went to Cape Town again (because we had actually planned it far in advance instead of mere hours before), so that means I’m out of Stellenbosch pictures and tales. Actually I have one more. We ate Indian food with all the people we met, and it was a really good time. I do have a picture of that.

 Well, that’s all I’ve got from Stellenbosch. I need to go to bed – I’m kind of in trouble because of something my puppies chewed up. And I have tons of Austria things to do tomorrow, so I need to fall asleep within the next hour. The internet just loves to distract me.
Anyway, I’m out. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back tomorrow!

Camel rides

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I’ve ridden four species of animals so far: a few horses, a camel, a donkey, and an elephant – this roster does not include any time I’ve ever tried to ride my dog. I think it’s fair to say that I’m terrified of riding animals by this point. For some reason I always think I’m going to fall off, and the last time I rode a horse, I actually did almost get bucked off and left with a fear of horses.
I don’t know if many of you have ridden camels. I feel like it’s a kind of “foreign experience,” or at least a “traveler’s experience.” My family and I rode camels on the edge of a desert near Yazd when we went to Iran a few years ago. From what I know, camels are some of the most uncomfortable creatures to ride. Let’s just say those humps are hell on your groin and inner thighs, and that pain lasts for another day too.  The scariest part of riding a camel is the boarding process. The camel will be sitting on the ground so you can get on it, and then it jolts up and starts walking. Once you get a feel for the camel’s walking pattern, riding isn’t so bad anymore. You kind of end up moving with the camel, but that’s probably true with any animal.
There were a bunch of flies on the camels’ faces and it grossed me out. They probably had a symbiotic relationship going on, but I still had trouble looking at it for long.
I might have not completely enjoyed riding a camel, but being on the edge of a desert was really cool. There weren’t any other people around and watching the wind reshape the dunes was incredible. It wasn’t even a big deal when the wind blew my veil off since there weren’t many people around (don’t worry, I didn’t lose it.) There were these really cool black rocks in the sand. My sister took one back to the states – it’s somewhere around the house I think. Excluding the minor pain and fear, the camel ride was a good experience.
Here’s me holding onto my dad for dear life.

My dad’s cousin Alireza didn’t want to ride a camel (he must be afraid of riding animals too!), so he walked alongside us. His wife Sadaf is on the middle camel, and I’m not sure who’s riding the lead camel.
This is Maloos, the donkey with an attitude. Whenever somebody got on her, she would sit down because she didn’t want to carry any extra weight – but hey, can you blame her? When we were heading back to the bus (we stopped a little way into the desert and walked around for a while), I tried to ride her, but she did not want that to happen so I ended up walking – I didn’t want to face the camel again.
I have no idea how these people managed to get that rope through her nostrils. And apparently Maloos let my sister ride her for a while… I don’t remember this, but I see Alireza in the front of the picture so I must have taken it.

Well I’m falling asleep, so I’ll just save my elephant ride story for another post. Goodnight everybody!

Hijab how-to

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I went to Iran around three years ago to visit my family members that live there. I was pretty apprehensive about going because I had never been somewhere so different in my life. Primarily there would be the obvious language and culture barriers, but I was anxious about other restrictions too. In Iran, women have major dressing restrictions – I mean, Iran’s no Saudi Arabia, but women still have to be very conservative. Women could not wear tight clothing in public (which sucked because I loved wearing tight pants at the time) and had to have their arms up to their hands and legs completely covered (yet another blessing for my long extremities.) And of course, true to Middle Eastern nature, women were ordered to wear a headscarf.
Now I know you’re probably thinking burka when I say headscarf, but there is a difference. A burka covers an entire woman’s face excluding her eyes – and I did see plenty of those in Iran, but they were worn by the more religious and older women. The headscarf I wore was a hijab, which is meant to cover a woman’s hair, not her face. The term hijab also applies to the style of dress I had to adhere to and can be applied to both men and women: loose-fitting, conservative clothing, and for women, a headscarf.
Despite the West’s stigma against it, dressing in the hijab style wasn’t as bad as I thought – or you might think – it would be. Since we went in March, the weather was still nice and I didn’t burn up. Wearing the hijab actually comforted me a bit and made me feel more confident at times – I didn’t have to worry about weird guys checking me out (okay this might not have happened but I still hate having people looking at me) and knew that who I was meant so much more than how I look, which is actually the point that the hijab is supposed to emphasize. If you’ve got a grudge on another country’s cultural custom, chances are that you’re misinformed about it, so go ahead and try it – you might find yourself respecting and enjoying it.