Moira Peckham, BFR Editor

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              As I’ve gotten older, busier, and generally more stressed, I’ve noticed something sad about myself: I seldom read for fun anymore. When I was a growing up in the truly riveting hubbub of Morro Bay, California I would make a conscious effort to sit myself down and read a gosh darn novel or even just a few short stories every week. Eventually I didn’t even have to try because reading was the most wonderful thing I could be doing. There was nothing like getting lost in someone else’s world for a few hours and, to be honest, that’s still one of the most incredible things life can offer us. When I reached college, however, I found my time increasingly taken up by technical readings for my courses in anthropology, philosophy, or whatever I was taking that semester. And let me tell you, after a week of reading Marxist theory and critiques of cultural ecology, nothing and I mean nothing sounded less appealing than sitting down with and trying to actually understand the copy of Infinite Jest that’s currently collecting dust on my book shelf. And after several months of doggedly ignoring all the books I’d been collecting, I finally realized something: I would have to force myself to read for fun or face the reality that I would only be reading technical pieces for the rest of my life. And I was not cool with the latter option.

              The first strategy I utilized to make myself read for fun was by taking an English course. English courses are a lot of work and anyone who tells you differently is wrong and probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But in spite of the work (or maybe because of it), English courses are also unbelievably rewarding. English 27: Introduction to the Study of Fiction allowed me to read seven incredible novels that I would never have picked up otherwise (as someone who reads mostly science fiction it was a trip to actually have to sit down and read Heart of Darkness for a grade but you know what it was great). I got to read amazing books for units! And write about them, which is a reward in and of itself. It was so amazing to be able to read and critically engage with literature that I never would have looked at before. Had I not taken that English course, I wouldn’t have even discovered how much I love Thomas Pynchon. So that particular experiment in forcing myself to read non-technical writings was a complete success. But alas, the summer rolled around and with it the time in which I could take classes outside of my major came to an end, so I had to think of strategy number two.

              Strategy number two was less about clever tactical course-planning and more about brute force. Amidst the balmy days of summer, my favorite author published an 880 page hard science fiction space odyssey and I vowed to finish it that summer in addition to about five other books that were burning a hole in my bookcase. So the strategy was basically to utilize my summer months to read as many books concurrently as I possibly could. I failed. But, boy, did I try. I got through probably about seven hundred pages of literature by the time summer ended just by sheer force of will, but it took me until the end of winter break that same year to finish the space odyssey. But that winter break introduced me to strategy number three: power reading.

              My first experience with power reading was with Camus’s The Stranger. If you aren’t familiar with that particular title, all you really need to know is that The Stranger isn’t that long. Maybe 160 pages, tops. One night after Christmas, I decided to read The Stranger but given my track record with actually finishing the books I start I knew that I needed to finish it all in one sitting or I wouldn’t finish it at all. So that’s what I did. It took me two and a half hours of non-stop reading but I did it. And it felt amazing. And so, I decided to try this tactic with something a little longer over spring break. (In between winter and spring break I didn’t read a single book; it was really sad.) Over the break, I went on vacation to a place with no Internet and I attribute this in part to the fact that I finished a 660 page book in four days. I was a well-oiled reading machine. I don’t think I had ever read anything as quickly and as thoroughly in my entire life. This too, is more an exercise in brute force rather than in self-control and cleverness. As of right now, however, power reading appears to be my most successful tactic for dealing with the fact that during the school year I have less and less time and drive to read for fun.

              Other strategies I’ve not tried myself but have seen others successfully employ include but are not limited to: having a book to read on your breaks at work, reading books of short stories, reading just before bed (I have tried this and fall asleep every time but other people do not), joining a literary journal (I actually do this one but some people don’t consider work fun for some reason), read poems, attempt to substitute Netflix with books at least sometimes, and many, many more!

              And perhaps this issue isn’t as universal as I feel it must be given my complete and utter lack of interest in staring at more pages full of words after spending my week doing just that, but maybe someone somewhere is struggling with this is very same thing. And if you are, hi there. I am here for you. Reading is the best and it is possible to find time to actually finish books, it just might take more effort than you’re used to. But stick with it because one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the ability to get lost, at least for a little while, inside someone else’s reality and to learn from it.

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Brittany Foley, BFR Editorial Staff

Walking back up the stairs towards her apartment door, she held her head high, determined to enter her new home feeling confident and prepared. Yet, once the door shut behind her with a bang, a noise much different than the one her door at home made, the breath rushed out of her and so did the tears. She leaned against that unfamiliar door and wished more than anything that she was home with her family, that she could have gotten into the car with her mom and left her unfurnished apartment standing vacant and far behind her.

Frustrated at her weakness, she wiped the relentless tears from her face and headed towards the bathroom. A shower would rid this unwanted homesickness from her skin and leave her feeling ready for the school year. At least, she hoped it would.

After getting undressed and stepping into a shower also tainted with a foreign feeling, her mind focused on the hot water cascading over her. Before long, she was oblivious to the sadness and unfamiliarity that awaited her beyond the shower curtain.

Unfortunately, she was also unaware of the sounds emerging in the darkness beyond the curtain. Within her apartment, a creature moved slowly, tracking the girl’s movements and searching for a place to hide. It was exalted to have new and apparently vulnerable prey to hunt. Just as the shower shut off, the creature slid into a more concealed position, its heart pounding in expectation of the hunt to come.

The girl stepped out of the shower, steam clouding around her and reached for the towel that rested on the toilet. Wrapping herself quickly in an attempt to keep the heat in, she rushed to her room, cringing at the wetness seeping down her back from her hair.

After getting dressed and feeling more herself, she walked into the kitchen to get lunch started. As she grabbed a pan from the lower cabinets, she felt as if someone was watching her. With the pan in her hand, she turned and surveyed the apartment.

The closet door was open but she couldn’t remember if it had already been that way. Instead of playing into her feelings, she decided to leave it how it was. Of course she’d be paranoid during her first time alone in the apartment. She turned back to the cabinet to grab a pot as well and hoped the act of making lunch would calm her frayed nerves.

Upon seeing the girl return to her work, the creature leaned out of its hiding spot once again and grinned, its sharp teeth gleaming in the darkness. It licked its lips in anticipation and returned to its own mental preparation of the meal it was to have later on.


It had been a long day and several times the girl felt as if she were being watched. She told herself she was only being paranoid but the feeling was persistent and each time, she could not help but want more than ever to be in her old house. She was expecting her roommates to arrive at eleven the next day but the morning seemed very far away.

Laying drowsily on her bed, she picked up the book she was halfway through. A King book, one of her favorites. However, as she read, she realized that she could not have picked a more horrible genre to read alone in a dark apartment. The talk of demons and dead bodies chilled her to the bone.

Just as she reached the section in her book when the character confronts his demon, the girl heard a front door slam. Heart racing, the thought that it might only be her roommates arriving early ran frantically through her mind. She took a deep breath and walked into hallway.

Before she could enter the living room, she heard a scraping noise coming from within the apartment. She could not stop her feet from moving towards the room, knowing that it was not her roommates but still trying to convince herself that it was. Turning the corner, she peered into the darkness, cursing herself for not getting a lamp for the living room.

Looking around the bare room, she was about to go back to bed when she noticed that the closet door was closed. She was positive that she did not close it. In fact, she knew it was open when she went into her bedroom.

Just this once she’d do what her instincts told her. She’d allow the fear to settle in and overcome it. Determined to prove herself wrong, she reached for the closet door knob.

Just before opening it, she held her breath and listened.

Light breathing. She swore she could hear breathing coming from from inside. Steeling herself, she opened the door.

Her breath flew from her chest, and she clutched at her neck instinctively, attempting to protect it from what was within.

Nothing. There was nothing in the closet. No creature ready to rip her apart and consume her. No stranger looking to assault her. Nothing.

She laughed at herself, brushing her sweaty bangs away from her forehead. It was all in her imagination. She could sleep soundly tonight knowing there was nothing in her closet.


She did not hear the vent opening above her.

Ben Rowen, BFR Managing Editor

Like most college students—and like all who wear lens-less glasses—I entered freshmen year entirely assured I was uniquely well-read. My first year taught me three important things (in addition to imparting on me the wisdom that lens-less glasses picked me out as uniquely unlikeable):

First, my taste in books was not unique (however at the fringe the Beats wished they were, their stuff certainly became lame-stream).

Second, I was not well-read.

Third, point #2 did not matter because I could pretend to be.

Discovery of point #3 opened up the floodgates for my mind’s growth—the entire literary canon became my oyster. I did my best Pacman impression, consuming bullet-points of book plots from novels I could never dream of reading. A brave new world full of fresh ideas unfolded before me.

I learned some books are not written in English. I learned what resides in foreign–language idiom is entirely inaccessible to any English translation. And I learned saying ‘to translate is to betray’ was amongst the safest, best ways to prove I was a Deep Thinker, in lieu (trying to prove I can read French!) of actually being one.

And now, like many college students, I enter senior year entirely assured that I am uniquely well-read when it comes to Wikipedia synopses of famous books. Or in other words, that I am functionally well-read.

Although I’m desperate to feel unique, the truth is that most people lie about reading books all the time. According to The Telegraph, 62% of people pretend to have read classics to appear smarter.

Next-level pretend readers are even didactic about their views of these books they have not read. They assure you calling so-and-so a “classic” is a misnomer that denigrates the veritable distinction itself. (A book about psychology that I didn’t read estimates this special group makes up 85% of all English majors.)

Within the collegiate context, it’s no surprise people lie about reading things. College practically teaches doing so. Social science classes, in particular, assign too much material to possibly get through. The assignments end up being about how to best to pretend to have done all the reading, not actually doing it.

On a wider scale, people lie about reading books because it makes them seem smarter. This is intuitive, but certainly does not holistically explain why people fake reading resumes.

To demonstrate the explanatory-insufficiency of such a reason, I ask you to try enumerate the books someone you know has read. If you can, I ask you to think about someone who you think is smarter for having read a certain book.

Even if you can complete task one, I bet you can’t task two. This is because none of us is keeping tabs on others’ reading lists, outside of those of us in book clubs (although, even those people find far more interesting things about which to gossip).

And so, ultimately, outside of the specific conversations about a given book in which we are immediately engaged, seeming to have read something won’t get us far. People are not keeping track.

In fact, even within those specific conversations, lying probably won’t get you far. Saying you’ve read something is a remarkably boring soundbite. We all understand this, at some level.

So, more than simply trying to appear smart, we say we have read something we have not because doing so bestows us some comfort. Each successful faking convinces us that we have acquired enough intellectual clout to pass as such a reader.

The lying can even be aspirational. Someone affirming our status as an appropriate reader of a book convinces us that, perhaps, we should read that book. At the very least, when we lie about reading something, we may feel compelled to read a bit of it to be able to support that lie.

And yet, whatever benefits lying about reading may afford, we all realize it’s not something we should do, and we do so guiltily.

The problem with faking, of course, is not that you’ll get caught. You won’t. Any fool with a smartphone can covertly google things mid-conversation. Anyone will believe said fool because ultimately no one else cares; revelation of reading habits means little—we aren’t in second grade anymore. Your best friend is not going to talk about reading a “great book,” which he or she has actually made up on the spot. Your friend won’t then ask you if you have read it. You’ll never have to say “yes”; you’ll never have to eat lunch in the bathroom stall that day.

Simply put, if you fake reading a book, you’ll likely escape unscathed.

Rather, faking is bad, aside from its pretension, because it prevents one from truly learning. SparkNotes and Wikipedia are good ways to submerge oneself in seemingly unapproachable reading material, but they give a one-dimensional reading. Fluency in plot structure and vague, abstracted themes, as we all know, is not equivalent to mastery of a book.

Further, if one could simply own up to having not read something, one’s acquaintances would feel the need to explain the reason behind name-dropping a work, when they do. Conversations would not proceed vapidly, full of unexplicated referents.

Faking, in contrast, stops others from sharing their knowledge, because it does not give them a chance to. Others assume the faker knows everything already, so there’s no point in sharing.

As such, everyone faced with faking having read a book confronts one question: would you rather learn, or pretend to have?

In light of many people choosing the latter, here’s an easy rubric for determining what books someone has read:

  • How do you know someone has read Huck Finn? They went to a high school in the U.S.
  • How do you know someone has read War and Peace? They tell you they have (i.e. they namedrop like it’s hot).
  • How do you know someone has not read Infinite Jest? They tell you they have.

With this rubric in mind, and potential fakes exposed, I urge anyone considering pretending to reconsider.

Rather than posing as knowledgeable, everyone should just follow Hal’s lead in Infinite Jest, and should enter a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.”

Alagia Cirolia, BFR Editorial Staff

College writers are desperate creatures, yearning for attention and audience. Hungry for praise, popularity, and even infamy, we all seek that fix—the sweet glory of publication—to validate those hours upon days upon weeks spent with head bent in humble supplication to whatever god may grace us from within the void of the blank, white page. The arduous journey from intangible thought to published work is wrought with rejection, and yet we must march on. Often, much of this rejection comes from publications that are merely mirages, beautiful traps designed to depress us with their authorial exclusivity. I say, enough of those nights spent checking my email to see if maybe, just maybe, I might be the next up-and-coming college writer published by The New Yorker. Let us march down different roads, all leading to publication.

While it’s still an excellent idea to submit work to traditionally renowned publications like The New Yorker or big names like Huff Post, consider expanding your pool of places to submit, as well as your body of work. I encourage you, my dear peers, to do a little dabbling. Write a short story, write a poem, write a heart-warming personal essay or comedically spiteful political commentary. Write more, and submit more. Cast more lines, follow more paths, and grow. And in the great empathy we all share on this NewYorkerforsaken trek across the hilly terrain of making a name for oneself, I share with you some strange (and familiar) places to take detours as a writer.

  1. Clickbait

As I’m sure you’re aware of, since you’re reading this, clickbait articles are all the rage on social media. Ranging from quippy and provocative to mind-numbingly cute, a good clickbait piece is one of the best ways to get your name on a popular piece,  and is particularly accessible to freelance writers. Although I say “clickbait,” many of these articles are admirably well-versed in pop-culture and artfully crafted with different styles of humor. In an age where cultivating an online personality is an art, writing successful is indeed an envied skill. Consider submitting to places such as Buzzfeed Community, Vice, College Humor, and Cracked. Now, these are pretty big names because, well, social media is everywhere. But they’re an interesting and ultimately valuable exercise in drawing from experience, testing your originality, and becoming internet famous. See: this article on eating steak with G-Unit, written by a boy who goes to Columbia. That could be you, man.

  1. Essays and Nonfiction

As preached in my school’s required 4th grade reading of Dear Mr. Henshaw, though fiction is a wonderful outlet for imagination and fantasy, it is just as important to write what you know. Drawing from experience is always a wonderful tactic, and writing personal essays and nonfiction pieces are an excellent way to hone that skill. Many holistic literary magazines include a non-fiction category, like the famed Emerson publication Ploughshares, which holds an emerging writer’s contest in poetry, prose, and nonfiction every year. Rookie is another site–an online zine by and for young women and teens–that accepts almost all forms of media pitches and encourages personal, intimate pieces. And finally, I suggest the Modern Love College Essay Contest held annually by the New York Times. This contest is begging for your torrid sophomore-year-club-retreat-turned-aching-3-year-sexual-engagement tale, and speaks directly to the principle of turning your personal experiences into art.

*Another mode of nonfiction to consider is science journalism; the scientific community desperately needs poetic writers like you to communicate its ideas!

  1. Non-traditional, Non-college Based Magazines

As a college student, it’s pretty standard to submit work to college publications. However, there are many excellent magazines to publish with that aren’t college affiliated and will add some variation to your published portfolio. Many of theses magazines also deviate from the cut and dry literary magazines produced by most colleges. For example, Brevity specializes in flash fiction that’s only 750 words or less. Or, you could follow in the footsteps of Shel Silverstein and become a Playboy contributor through this college fiction contest. Beyond your local college publication, there are a million amazing independent ones like Word Riot and Drunkenboat that also accept everything from poetry to flash fiction to small press literary reviews.

***

So come on my wonderfully ambitious peers, branch out a little. Give The New Yorker the bird and use other publications, other genres of writing, as training wings. Your work is worth more than a two year wait for a response from the Big Guy. Get your name out there and support yourself through social media, support small press, support the transformation of experience into expression, and don’t wait around for an answer from an intangible entity—get published.

Robert Tooke, BFR Staff

Driving town to town, I see little beauties and tiny facets that make and break the area: people, attractions, personality. It’s a nebulous idea and an easy ability being able to characterize an entire populace with a brief generalization in good accuracy, especially since road trips don’t offer much time and experience in three or four days, if that.

Social media, namely every youthful adventurer and their blog, helped breed this absolutely gorgeous idea for me that the Pacific Northwest is a lucid daydream where Evergreens, abandoned railroads, and delicate espresso shops lay along the coast, hidden in the fog as discoverable gems, waiting for wanderlust couples to find them.

Trekking up north from Berkeley during spring break, I realized it’s true. Actually, kind of. I spend some time scribbling down every detail and idea that wanders through my head about what I see, or what I wanted to see, because after scrolling through Instagram or reading way too many Gary Paulsen novels as a kid, I created this little monster inside of me that yearns to see everything that would make up the aesthetically pleasing Pacific Northwest.

It’s funny though because you also discover things you wish you hadn’t.

After a while, it became a routine to notice practically everyone staring at your racially mixed family walk into a hotel, restaurant, or gas station, and even worse, endure the occasional drive-by heckling, “Hey, boy! Look-y here…” It was frightening, disappointing, and wholly confusing. It was reminiscent of the antagonism in Deliverance and severely distorted my view of what I thought I could call an escape from school, ironically giving me more social anxiety than ever before. Before I make another generalization about what it’s truly like as an Asian-American spending his spring break in seemingly smaller, impoverished, and occasional racially driven towns, I guess I came to a conclusion the morning after I left Josephine County in Oregon that there exists a minute façade in front of every pretty idea. This time, it was that there was this heaven north of SoCal. I really don’t know how to accurately generalize the experience—I guess it wasn’t picture-perfect and I couldn’t exactly put it on a postcard.

The beauty of it is that I can always dream about the spectacular fantasies of driving by elk in Ecola State Park and meandering through the fog from Mendocino to Cascade Locks in my writing, but can never escape the reality of actually experiencing the living partition of racism up there in the paradise I used to speculate about.

Brittany Foley, BFR Staff

She stared at the computer screen, at the cursor that continuously blinked in and out of existence until her vision blurred and she had to shake her head to bring herself back to the present.

Work, work, work, always work to do. Dozens of old Post-it note to-do lists that she threw into the trash and then rewrote anew every day. She had two essays due the upcoming Friday and a midterm the week after that and even with the pressure increasing and the stress piling on with every day that passed, she couldn’t find it in her to start an essay.

She sighed and looked out her window, wishing for something, anything, to give her an excuse to walk away from the computer without a tinge of regret. As she looked across the courtyard, it took her a minute to realize that someone was staring back at her.

Her heart caught in her throat and she pushed herself backwards, toppling out of her chair and onto the dusty dorm-room carpet. For a dazed moment, she forgot what had startled her until she heard her window slide open.

Damn the people who decided not to put a latch on the windows.

She scrambled to her feet and spun around, facing the man that was, at that moment, climbing through her window and into her room. Her room on the eighth floor of the building.

How in the hell did he climb eight stories?

He caught her eye and, as if he knew what she was thinking, grinned maniacally.

Again, her heart threatened to choke her as she backed toward the door, reaching behind her for the knob. She didn’t dare take her eyes off of the man. Chances were that he was waiting for her to turn around so he could rush at her and grab her.

Is this happening? Is this really happening to me? How is this happening to me?

At that moment, all she wished was to be sitting back at her desk, struggling to write an essay. She’d write five essays if she needed to, if only this strange man would climb back out the window and leave her alone.

A high-pitched shriek tore her away from her wishful thoughts and somehow it was possible for the man’s grin to extend further across his face. She lunged for the knob and tumbled out into the hallway.

For a moment she was alone, catching her breath and wondering what in the hell was going on. Then doors all along the hallway started slamming open and her terrified floor mates rushed out, eyes wide and mouths open in shock. Shouts of terror escaped the pale-faced students as they collectively ran for the elevator.

All around her, chaos ensued.

One second, she was running alongside one of the students she had Econ with and the next, a man in black appeared from one of the doorways and grabbed him around the waist, pulling him into one of the rooms.

Every second she expected to feel a hand on her arm, a voice in her ear telling her to scream, to scream as loud as she could even though it would be of no use. She knew that if she felt that hand, she would fall silent, let herself be pulled into the closest room and allow whatever sick thing they wanted to do happen. Because what could she do? She never was an athlete. She wasted time watching movies and reading books. The only exercise she got was the walk to the coffee shop in the morning.

In the space of seconds, she had reached the elevator when suddenly the hallway was plunged into darkness. The screams of the students around her grew louder and she felt her head spinning and the darkness closing in on her. Hands shoved her towards the stairwell but she heard the cries of students on the floors beneath her and knew that running down the stairs was futile. Rather than allow herself to be pushed down the stairs and to her impending doom, she forced her way to the part of the stairwell that led to the roof and sat down on the steps in defeat. She put her head on her knees and waited for that hand and that whisper to whisk her away.

After a minute of sitting there on the cold concrete steps, feeling her legs go numb and the blood pumping through her heart, the cries started to become more sporadic and suddenly she felt the need to live spur her to her feet. Holding her breath, she pushed herself against the wall, feeling the metal bar press against her back, and made her way up the stairs.

She would hide at the very top. A sad attempt at survival but an attempt at the least. Silence encased the building and even the quiet tap of her foot on the next step seemed to echo in the hallway. Finally, she made it to the top step and folded herself into the corner to wait.

How many minutes had passed? It felt like days.

The silence strangled her while the darkness watched and she felt herself slipping away.

She wasn’t going to make it. She was going to die tonight, in this poorly kept hallway with lint sticking to her jeans and gravel and dust embedded in her palms. She—

“Hello.”

And she felt a clammy hand wrap its fingers around her arm.