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.

Sorry….

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It’s been ages, I know. I feel terrible for staggering so badly and that I at least owe the people who read this some kind of explanation.

School has taken over my life. Worse than usual. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on here before, but this is the worst semester of my life. School is kind of kicking my ass – well, I’m not doing badly, but I have to work much harder than I ever have before, and to be completely honest, I hate it.

Double majoring is a blessing and a curse at the same time. I love being able to look at different styles of writing from other perspectives. It actually gives me a huge edge in my classes. Then there’s the bad side – because I have two majors, I have to split my priorities. When I’m really busy, I’ll work on something for one class for about 20 minutes and then grab my other notebook. It kind of sucks, especially when four drastically different projects get thrown at me.

But I won’t complain about school anymore today. At least not here.
Since I’ve left this dry for the equivalent of a semester, I’ll try to give you a few updates. There are a couple things I have actually managed to stick to. Here are the more important things going on:

  1. Lycidas is alive and well. I can’t believe he survived Thanksgiving break, and now that finals are approaching (well, one-final-and-three-huge-projects), i’m being sent into a frenzy over how I am going to care for him over Christmas break. I would really like to take him home so he could spend the holidays with me, but I’m terrified that if I take him out of his filtered tank for two hours he will die.
  2. I managed to keep up a few of those goals I made for myself back in August, and I’m happy about it. I went back to using multiple day planners, but it hasn’t really gotten my life back in control.
    The best thing I have done this semester is make a point to write something every week. Ever since I started writing for The Black Sheep, that hasn’t been an issue. Hopefully I won’t be judged by whatever jobs or internships I apply to. And if nobody in the workforce takes me seriously, I can at least applaud myself for having a knack in writing crude humor pieces. You can read everything I’ve written for The Black Sheep (and a story about Thanksgiving, which I did not write but for some reason has my name on it) at theblacksheeponline.com
  3. I tried to be cool and use a link but it fucked everything up. I don’t know why the internet is being so terrible to me right now.
    This is some of my project.

 

  1. I don’t know if this actually constitutes as good graphic design. I just can’t believe I actually made something that looks good with a computer. And I made that cover on Paintbrush for Mac, so you have to be impressed with that, right?
  2. Another good thing I’ve gotten into is working on my culinary skills a little. I’m definitely not a lady-beast by any means, but I am growing. I can make pretty good grits, and I made a salad for lunch tomorrow, which I don’t think I’ve done… well, ever. See? I’m progressing already. 

But… I should probably back away from my laptop. Even though I am trying to apologize and make amends for skimping so hard lately, I’m also procrastinating a little and kind of have two huge projects due on noon on Tuesday. You know, just 3000 words to write, no big deal (okay, I lied about complaining.) But one of those projects might end up on here, because if everything goes according to plan, it’s going to be an awesome story about the increasing popularity of bacon in high-end restaurants, desserts, and culture. Yeah. Hopefully.

Hopefully I’ll have more time to write things soon. And if I don’t and the world decides to hate me, at least there’s always Christmas break to look forward to. Brace yourselves: My Big Fat Iranian Christmas is approaching.

Look, I Have Goals!

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Oh, the I’m-back-at-school-and-have-no-motivation-but-extreme-anxiety-and-I’m-always-tired blues are here once again. They’ve actually been here for a while. How long ago did school start? Three weeks? Okay, then I’ve been in a funk for two weeks.

Despite how intensely I hate schoolwork, things are going pretty well. Actually, scratch that. School is terrifying me. But outside of school? Yeah, things are good. I’ve become addicted to Gossip Girl, so that should fill any void I’m feeling in my life. I joined a paper, so people besides my Facebook friends are reading my work. My highly offensive and hilarious work that will probably come back to bite me one day. Whatever – clips are clips, and I finally feel like there’s some purpose in my life.

So if things are going well, then why am I making new expectations for myself? Well, firstly it’s because I’m 20 now, and there are things I’ve just got to learn to do, like cooking. There’s so much more to food than just heating it up and putting sauce or cheese on top, and since I’m such an avid fan of Real Simple already, I’d like to get to the point where I can actually follow a recipe without fucking something up.
I’ve also been anxious as hell because I already feel like I can’t keep up with school. I kind of suffer from this scheduling problem where I don’t consider the consequences – and the workload, in particular –  of the classes I sign up for. I just love to make things complicated, and working on two degrees at once is becoming an issue for the first time. What becomes a priority? How can I choose between my two great loves? And no, I’m not copping out and declaring a minor instead – I was born to be an English major… it just happens that I was born to be a journalism major too.
If I can get off my ass and sort things out, school won’t be as much of a problem. My anxieties are easy to fix. All I have to do is act now. God, I sound just like my dad. I didn’t mean to ramble on so much.
Anyway, here are some things I’m aiming to do:

  1.  Be more organized with my tasks, and keep an actual day planner instead of scribbling some odd words in an unlined notebook. I actually already started this and went against my own advice – I’m using a free UGA planner, and it makes me feel like the biggest freshman. But don’t worry, I’m going to pimp it out and make it match my “wrong neighborhood motherfucker” notebooks.
  2. Learn to cook something of sustenance and start eating more super foods. I’ve warmed up to eggs in the past year, but I need to keep expanding if I want to have more energy. Oh, and since I’m 20 years old now, I should probably start liking vegetables.
  3. Build up some muscle in my arms. Hey, I’m tired of not being able to lift things! Something tells me street team might be able to help me with this a little.
  4. Write something every week. Thankfully, this won’t be an issue since I’m writing for a paper now and will get kicked off if I don’t turn anything in.
  5. Own my points in class discussions. I don’t think this will be so hard if I read Joyce’s work more closely, look over the poems I’m assigned more than once, and try to make myself open to any interpretation. Also I should remember to bring magazines to class so I don’t look like an idiot in mag writing.

I’m feeling good about these – and I’m not stressed, like I usually would be, and that’s amazing. I didn’t just set goals that will help me out tremendously. I set realistic goals, and I didn’t set an insane amount of them.
I’m fairly confident I can do this, and that makes me feel safe. It makes me feel great.

Praise for Paradise

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To be honest, I signed up for the Milton class I’m taking on a whim. I had originally signed up for English 4000, because it was mandatory at the time, and Poetry, well, because I love it.
Then came the announcement that frustrated the university’s older English majors: English 4000 was no longer a required course for an AB English degree. I was ecstatic: my grade wasn’t going to go down the toilet this semester!
With English 4000 dropped from my class schedule, I glanced through the roster of English classes online. Then I thought, “Hey, why not Milton?” It was still a 4000-level English class, but the number wasn’t really what caught my attention. No, it was my obsession with His Dark Materials. I’m going to have to save my post concerning that said obsession for another time, because if I mention it now, it will overtake this post, which is obviously supposed to be about Milton and the Paradise poems.
On the first day of the semester, I learned that there was an available spot in a photojournalism class I really wanted to take. I’m lazy and get stressed incredibly easily (oh, and I have to limit my course hours so I don’t have to graduate early), so I didn’t want to take five classes this semester. Or any semester, for that matter. I did that my very first semester of college, and I was a little overwhelmed. I would have to drop Poetry or Milton.
I went to the bookstore, because, like the model student I am, I didn’t have my textbooks. Plus I wouldn’t have time to pick up the photojournalism textbook later that day. Obviously, I used this bookstore trip to examine my course loads for the Milton and poetry classes. The poetry class required that I buy nine books; the Milton class only required one. I was taking Milton.
I’m sure I would have adored the poetry class, but I’m really glad with the choice I made. I immediately decided to stay in the class when I walked into the room and saw one of my friends sitting in a desk. That meant I wouldn’t be the only sophomore in a 4000-level English class. We younger English majors who are a year ahead in our classes have to stick together. Will and I make great study partners. We are killing that class. Also we’re making the same scores on everything, which I think is funny. I think everything is funny, though.
There are a number of other reasons I like Milton. Firstly, we have a similar mindset. There is evidence in Milton’s earlier work, which he wrote when he was around my age, that he didn’t feel like he was doing enough with his life and work. Milton was a perfectionist and a worrywart, just like me! His environment was extremely competitive: He was surrounded by scholars and writers, and I think it terrified him a little. He must have put himself under a tremendous amount of pressure. I just liked that we have similar mentalities. It makes me feel a lot better about being in a huge creative slump (which is disappearing, by the way, if you haven’t noticed – I’m writing something every day now!).
I also have this thing for religious literature. I guess it’s because I wasn’t raised with any particular religious background. With an Iranian dad and an American mom, it’s pretty obvious that my parents didn’t have a similar religious background. I did go to Catholic school, but the only religious literature I was really exposed to was a little bit of the New Testament, books in the religion and literature class I took (and everybody in the class got to pick a book, and that’s how I got a Catholic teacher to assign The Golden Compass to his class.). Oh, and the songs I sang in mass for chorus. Aside from the New Testament class I had to take in the 10th grade, my other exposures to religious literature were optional.
I haven’t read much Puritan literature. My AP American Lit class read a few Puritan poems before we had to read The Scarlet Letter when I was in the 11th grade, but that was American Puritan literature (again, that exposure was completely optional since I chose to take the AP English class). Milton was a Puritan, and obviously he wasn’t an American Puritan. And reading an English Puritan’s literature is nice because I can read it without having to discuss the Salem Witch Trials or anything of the sort. It was a nice spin on things. I just really like reading religious literature because I’m free to make an interpretation without anybody telling me how to think or judging me. People don’t know what I’m up to because I’m just reading! Isn’t literature wonderful?

Evidence suggests that Satan was the original troll.

Okay, point number three. I love Paradise Lost. I made Paradise Lost my bitch this semester. Paradise Regain’d can be my little bitch. Or would that be my bottom bitch? I’m not sure. I can’t speak pimp. I’ve assigned myself all this supplementary reading material, like Utopia, His Dark Materials (of course), and the Old Testament, so I can research Paradise Lost and appreciate it even more. Paradise Lost actually helped inspire me to create my own concentration within my English major. Well, reading Dante’s Inferno and Pullman helped with that too.
Paradise Lost is one rich text. Sure, there are the obvious themes of knowledge, obedience, and disguises, but there is so much more. There’s history, sociability, fertility, heroism (well, atypical heroism), teaching, the power of words, and of course, blindness (these are all topics for the essay I have to write during my exam tomorrow, by the way). And there are allusions all over the place. There are geographical allusions, biblical allusions (well, obviously), mythological allusions, even allusions to Milton’s other poems. I read one in Paradise Regain’d today, for example. Milton’s texts are so rich! I’m rolling in literary dough! I just love literature so much!
I’m not so sure if writing about how much I like Paradise Lost helps me study for my exam at all, but at least it makes me eager. I have already planned out my essay, after all (I’m writing about the roles of sociability in Paradise Lost, Paradise Regain’d, and Comus). I’m actually kind of excited to write this essay, because I know I’m going to kill it. Since when do I feel this way about finals? I suppose I did feel this way yesterday.
I have a new theory! Milton’s work is slightly responsible for the route to happiness and stability that I’ve encountered. Yeah, why not? I’m sure I could argue it. At this point, I can argue anything.  And now I really need to end this post and actually do my work, so I’m going to end this as strongly as I can – so I’m going to use the end of Paradise Lost to close this up. Feast on this, lovers of literature.

            The World was all before them, where to choose
            Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
            They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
            Through Eden took thir solitarie way. 

Lycidas

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I’ve noticed that there are a lot of poetry enthusiasts here on WordPress. I find it absolutely stupendous. It’s really nice to fawn about literature without being scoffed at or called a nerd. Plus I feel like I’m taken more seriously here than I am in the real world.
Great poetry enthusiasts of the internet, I am approaching you because I am in need of advice. I think it would be really clever to get a fish and name it Lycidas, which is a poem Milton wrote about his colleague who drowned. (Is that morbid or disrespectful? I really like the poem.) The thing is that if I’m going to name a fish after one of the greatest poets of the English language’s work, it needs to be esteemed. I want this fish to be Elizabethean as fuck.
I’m also going to need a fish that won’t be too difficult to take care of. I can’t get a fish, give it one of the greatest names ever, and then end up killing it. I would never forgive myself. I mean, I’m still upset with myself for almost killing my plant. Lycidas is also going to be in the care of somebody else for the six weeks I’m spending in Europe, so I really don’t want him to be a high-maintenance fish.
Betas are easy to take care of, right? They used to intimidate me when I was little because I heard about how intense male betas get around one another. I think a beta might make a good Lycidas, but I’m no expert on fish.
Any suggestions, poetry enthusiasts of the internet? Do you think the beta would make a good Lycidas?

National Poetry Month Appreciation Post

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I know I’m getting horribly off topic, but April is National Poetry Month and I’ve been geeking out about it hardcore. (It’s my blog, I’ll post what I want!)
I’m lucky because my school is taking National Poetry Month just as seriously (well, probably more) as I am.  UGA has set up lots of poetry readings, book signings, and colloquiums on campus and around Athens for all the literature and poetry nerds in the area. So yeah, I’m pumped. Now I don’t really know how many events I’ll be able to attend since journalism is starting to take over my life (and my news writing professor won’t let me cover speeches on language or literature, which sucks), but I’m really excited about one particular lecture: on Friday there’s going to be a colloquium on The Aeneid. Yes, Vergil’s Aeneid. And I know that I won’t be able to let it count for one of the speeches I have to cover, but um, that’s not important because I know this colloquium is going to be incredible. And it’s going to talk about the role of ships in the poem, which might help me out with my Milton class (Satan is compared to ships a lot in Paradise Lost.) It’ll also help me out because I’m trying to make my own emphasis for my English major (radical religious literature), and I really think knowing a good bit of mythology and mythological epics would help me out. So yeah, I’m really looking forward to this lecture. I know, I’m a huge nerd.

I’ve found a few ways to celebrate outside of school as well. You know, since I’m a nerd. I found a book on Howl yesterday in the UGA bookstore, and maybe somewhat impulsively purchased it. This book was on a table dedicated to National Poetry Month, by the way. Just throwing that out there. I couldn’t not notice it, okay?

I’m a big Ginsberg fan if you can’t tell. I wouldn’t say he’s my absolute favorite poet, because, well, I have problems with choosing favorites. I like Raymond Carver and Elizabeth Bishop. I actually appreciate T.S. Eliot now, thanks to the American lit after 1865 class I took a year ago. And of course I’m fond of Milton, because oh my god he was a genius.
But yeah, Howl is great, so I’m really looking forward to reading this. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it more than those two people on Amazon did.

I’m going to try to watch a few movies based on poems too. There’s a Howl movie, and I like it. I’m trying to think of what comes to mind. I’m not sure if there are many movies on poetry. I guess the Romeo and Juliet from the 90s, which is awesome. I wonder if anybody would go for a poetic movie night. I know I’m not the only giant literature nerd here. (Trust me, I’m friends with others.)

And maybe now that I have my energy back, I’ll actually aim to finish a poem for once. It could work. I’ve got more material to write on now. I might as well try, you know?
Hopefully journalism won’t completely take over my life.
Dual degree problems? Dual degree problems.