Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Junot Diaz Challenge

A conversation with Junot Diaz

Junot came to our school recently and astonished us when he told us about the most important thing an aspiring writer can do to prepare for writing their first major work. What was astonishing was not the explicit language with which it was conveyed (although that was impressive), but the content of the advice itself: the successful writer, according to Junot, doesn't practice writing. He reads...a lot. His prescription is 100 books a year.

I did a quick calculation and realized this is about 2 books a week or 100 pages a day (assuming 300 page novels). It may not surprise you that this is not the first time someone has considered a challenge similar to this.

So I am taking up his challenge. Yesterday, I started "A final solution", by Michal Chabon, an admittedly small novel. But I am on pace as I finished it today.

Some excellent themes of the book: 1. The slip of the mind from erudition to senselessness with age and death (p. 101: Nice description of the awesomeness (and awfulness) of life continuing for others after it ends for us). 2. The ontological search for meaning: is meaning only in our minds or is it "out there" in the world (I have posted on this topic before)? When we find meaning in the babble of a parrot, is it warranted or is it due to an innate need for meaning. Chabon suggests that we overestimate the rewards of any search for meaning; however, ultimately, meaning does exist in the world, despite the fact that the banality of it can underwhelm us.

Here are some vocabulary words I learned while reading "A final solution":
  • arabesques - design of intertwined flowing lines
  • prurience - having or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters
  • redolent - strongly reminiscent or suggestive of
  • fustian - pompous or pretentious speech or writing
  • over the transom - informal offered or sent without prior agreement; unsolicited
  • implacable - relentless; unstoppable
  • purloin - steal
  • aspergillum - implement for sprinkling holy water
  • macadam - stone path, road
  • bibulous - excessively fond of drinking alcohol.
  • stoats - weasel like creature
  • syllogism - an instance of a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn (whether validly or not) from two given or assumed propositions (premises), each of which shares a term with the conclusion, and shares a common or middle term not present in the conclusion (e.g., all dogs are animals; all animals have four legs; therefore all dogs have four legs). deductive reasoning as distinct from induction.
  • baleful - menacing, threatening harm
  • gephyrophobia - fear of bridges
  • echolalia - meaningless repetition of another person's spoken words as a symptom of psychiatric disorder.• repetition of speech by a child learning to talk.
  • fauteuil - a wooden seat in the form of an armchair with open sides and upholstered arms.
  • ineradicable - unable to be destroyed or removed :
  • igneous fatuous - a phosphorescent light seen hovering or floating at night on marshy ground, thought to result from the combustion of natural gases.• something deceptive or deluding.
  • intransigence - unwilling or refusing to change one's views or to agree about something.
  • susurrus - whispering, murmuring, or rustling : the susurrus of the stream.
  • inutile - pointless, useless