Happy summer, dear readers and authors!

We would like to again congratulate those who were published in Issue 37 this year, and thank everyone for their support.

As we are an entirely student-run journal, we would also like to remind you that we will not be reading submissions during the summer, and will start again in September, Fall 2017, during the academic school year. Please know that while we are happy to receive your summer submissions, you will not receive any responses until September.

May your summers be full of creativity, productivity, and sensitivity! Happy writing, everyone.

— Alagia Cirolia, Managing Editor

Advertisements

Moira Peckham, BFR Editor

book_header

              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.

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.

Ben Rowen, BFR Editorial Staff

Teachers always told me to write like Hemingway. With that lesson in mind, I feel the need to preface what follows: I apologize for, amongst other things, my long-windedness, loquacious garrulousness, bombastic verbosity, rambling blabbiness, general predisposition towards being voluble, and distaste of the laconic and brusque. Chiefly, I apologize for possessing a thesaurus.

One eleventh grade teacher (anecdotally, a teacher I once caught wearing a beret) read a personal essay I wrote about the blooming of Bradford Pears on Swasey Parkway. This seemed an appropriate, humble essay topic, so I was confused by my poor grade. Mr. Lee, hopped-up on a recent re-viewing of The Dead Poet’s Society, had me leap up on my chair to read a story to the class.

It was a Hemingway story. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Mr. Lee then recited the apocryphal tale of its origin, which he, nonetheless, took as gospel. Hemingway walks into a diner; a bar is not a wholesome enough place for irreverent high schoolers to encounter in lessons, so Hemingway walks into a diner. He turns to his friends—who weren’t on their cell phones, Mr. Rowen—and says, “I bet you I can write a short story that is only six words long.” They make the bet, he writes about baby shoes (how twee!), and everyone at the table cries (their drinks are taking forever to come). Mr. Lee told us that this was the power of brevity.

My response: “Hemingway’s bet, itself, took fifteen words.”

Mr. Lee suspiciously ignored this and dared me to write him a six-word story by the beginning of next class. I one-upped him and delivered my story on the spot, the spot still being atop my wobbly desk chair. “Yard sale: baby shoes, already worn.”

Mr. Lee said I missed the point. The Swasey Bradford Pear blossoms remained reserved, bundled tight like a baby in a blanket, on the precipice of splitting open like the spray on a lake’s surface as a falsely skipped stone plummets after a solitary hop—and I received my C-.

A few months of English class bereft of joy later, I was cutting words from essays like someone making space to cram more accomplishments into a character-count limited college application. My writing did get better. Mired in a positive feedback loop, I truly immersed myself in brevity, and my sentences became strings of monosyllables. My writing got boring.

Here’s the thing. Mr. Lee was half-right. Overwriting is miserable to read. But, the power of Hemingway’s short story is not in its brevity. The most obnoxious people you know are probably pros at telling stories in 140-characters, but you would never assume that means their stories are high literature.

The power of his story lies not in its succinctness but rather in the definiteness that succinctness exports. You can tell Hemingway’s short story over-and-over again in six words that don’t create a good piece: for example, “She miscarried, needs her money back.” Brevity is important, but only insofar as it is evocative and not on the nose. Hemingway’s story is clear enough to convey meaning and is still suggestive.

If brief writing sacrifices the latter, give me thesaurus-heavy writing, prolix prose, and interminable gabbiness.

Rachel Lew, BFR Staff

The trees are wet. Joey can see this through the small window of his room. For hours he has been roving, mentally, across the moist pavement and stilled cars outside. The sun is rising now, dragging itself out of its bed of clouds; soon its malignant rays will be creeping up his wrinkled sheets. Picture this: innocent Joey, helpless, the light exposing his soft shoulders, curved in meek avoidance of the other inert singularity under his blankets.

A decidedly female singularity.

He has not turned to Harper for hours, and does not do so now. Instead, lying on his side with his knees drawn to his chest like a dead beetle, he has been tracing mournfully in his head an image of her slim self. Reflexively, the voice of his art teacher guides him:

Let us start at the feet.

One curved white sole forms on his imaginary canvas, crinkled and tucked under a smooth calf.

Begin by fleshing out the light and the dark.

There is something both intimate and disgusting about bare feet. On one hand they remind Joey of public bathrooms at the pool, of slippery film accumulating on tiles; on the other, they are beautiful things in the realm of art, and make Joey think of old ivory statues, of new bars of soap, of a bowl of rich milk sitting on a table.

The toes of the other foot: creamy white dots, poking out tentatively from under pale haunches. Very good, says Mr. Meyer.

If only he could conceive this on a real drawing pad!

But Joey cannot wield even a charcoal stick with grace, let alone a paintbrush. After weeks of steady instruction, the marks on his paper are insistently large, dark, and awkward; no amount of lessons on perspective or shadow seem to have reformed his hand. Even Mr. Meyer, equipped with the blind faith of a young teacher, has become less generous in doling out encouragement to Joey.

Perhaps he has become disappointed in Joey. Indeed, even the most exuberant of instructors require the occasional verification from their student: a successful imitation, an independent epiphany—at the very least, verbal acknowledgement of the mentoring effort. But reciprocation has always eluded Joey.

The rest of his teachers have learned to ignore him. Joey is perfectly fine with this. In any case he is not the sort to raise his hand in class; the exchanges between question and answer happen too quickly to allow for the pauses between his utterances.

Despite what his teachers think, Joey is not deaf. In their voices he can discern not only the meaning of the words they speak so readily, but also certain sympathetic undertones and the leaden march of speech reserved for the uncommonly stupid. Yet, slow he may be, but not stupid—he only needs time to practice the purse of his lip, the lift of his tongue; each word must ripen before it is borne into the air. This his teachers do not understand. They catch him mouthing syllables and rush to his rescue with careful enunciations, hoping to wipe up the sentence before it dribbles down his chin. Unfortunately it is a dynamic that goes not unobserved by his classmates.

“Joey. Joey-Joey-Joey.”

“Coo-ee!”

“Fatty-says-what?

they whisper, trying to get him to utter the hallmark of the hearing-impaired.

Joey has tried to gratify them in the past. Each time, it has ended poorly; each time, he has imagined that if he is to give them one word, it will be the most articulate, scathing monosyllable that anyone has ever pronounced; whipping his head around, he will deliver it like a blow, and they, unfortunate animals, will be shocked into their own silence. Naturally, when he does turn around in his seat, he is so furious that the word comes out in funny puffs: “Wh-wh—wh—”; his classmates, capitalizing on his likeness to a heavy freight train, only burst into further mockery.

“Look at him!”

“Look at how red he is!”

From fleshy canals in his head the heat spreads; his hands creep up and cover his ears, lest they begin to spout fire. What a self-conscious dragon he is, more agitated by the sound of their laughter than the cause of it. Ugly laughter! he thinks. Unseemly, large-mouthed, like the monstrous approximations of people that blossom on his sketching-pad. And yet he makes little effort to prevent future episodes like these. Such unattractive details of his life he is only too willing to hide from others; for the sake of their own ears he stuffs them deep in cerebral folds, camouflaging them, with a sort of sick delight, amongst the couch-debris of his brain (dimes, hair-clips, crumbs, oh my!).

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.

Cindy Ho, BFR Staff

“Your mother brought this spinet with her when she got married.”

I know what the word “spinet” means. I read it in a novel last week and then I found it in the dictionary, so I know that it’s a name for a type of very short piano. My siblings just call this a piano, but I think my uncle calls it a spinet because he likes to be scientific.

“Since you’re probably old enough to learn how to put some new life in this thing, it’s high time it got a new friend.”

My uncle slides the wooden cover into the piano and the keys are revealed. The white keys are tinged with yellow, like my uncle’s teeth. I climb onto the bench. I can’t quite reach the pedals, but hopefully that isn’t important. I stare at the black and white blocks that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. This belonged to Mama and it belongs to her ghost now. I don’t think I should be doing this, but I can’t tell uncle that I think Mama has a ghost because he’s a doctor and doctors don’t believe in ghosts.

“Go on. Press one of the keys.” He points at the little blocks and smiles at me. “What, you think it’s gonna bite you?”

Of course it won’t. The keys may look like teeth, but they’re not in a properly functioning mouth, so they couldn’t do anything to me. I expected better from a doctor, really. I put a finger on one of the white keys and press down.

I blink. I’ve never heard a sound as clear and pretty as this before. I press on some of the keys next to it. So the piano can make its voice sound different the same way a person can, but unlike a person, a piano can make several different sounds at once. Maybe a piano is actually many people.

“Go ahead and get a feel for all the different pitches.”

Pitches. So that’s what the different sounds are called. The black keys are like bridges between the pitches of the white keys, and the white keys that don’t have black keys between them are so close that they don’t need bridges. So that’s how it all works.

I come across a white key that sounds like the beginning of the song my sister sings when she’s kneading dough. If I can find more and put them in the right order, maybe I can make the spinet sing the same song. Except I don’t think that the spinet can make the words. But at least it will sound nice.

“Here’s a book that your mother had.” There’s a long piece of wood with hinges that’s stuck on the spinet, right above the keys and right under the big gold letters that I can’t read because they’re too fancy. My uncle flips it down so it makes a little shelf that he can put the book on.

The book explains that the curly shaped “S” is called a treble clef, the ear-shaped curve with the two dots after it is a bass clef, and the lines that they sit on are called staffs. A curly line hugging the left side of the staffs makes the two sets a grand staff.

And then the notes, which are the different black shapes that are either hollow or solid and sometimes with lines and flags sticking out, and then the sharps and flats which are the black keys, and the names of all the notes. The names are not names like Eva or Philip, they are just letters. The name of the first note of the song that my sister likes to sing is called A. And the next one is B, which is one black key away from A. And the next….