Cracking a Cold One with the Books

By: Parker Gregory Shpak

Two of my most frequented hobbies are reading books and drinking beer. My favorite hobby, however, is reading books while drinking beer. Herein lies a primer for those of you who have perhaps dabbled in these pastimes, but have not yet mastered them in combination.

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Beer has as rich a history as literature and is equally as steeped in the human experience, so the pair is a natural combination. It helps that getting a good buzz on can make narratives more captivating. I read the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire while drinking beer, and a mind soaked in booze can absorb the pages of a novel like a sponge.

First, an explanation of some lingo associated with the brewing community:

*ABV: Alcohol by volume. A standard beer is 5% ABV

*IBU: International Bittering Units (0-120+). Around 60 is what I’d call fairly bitter.

Now, here are some great brews to get you started on your alcohol filled literary journey:

 

  1. “Backwoods Bastard” by Founders Brewing Co., out of Grand Rapids, MI

            Scotch Ale/11.6% ABV/50 IBU

At 11.6% ABV, this beer will kick your ass and push you into a mental state like heading deep into the southern woods. It’s a Scotch Ale, which means, of course, it tastes heavily of scotch. I recommend drinking this while reading anything by Faulkner or perhaps even Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. You catch my drift.

 

  1. “Heady Topper” by The Alchemist, out of Stowe, VT

            DIPA/8% ABV/100 IBU

This beer is sought after world-wide, and until July 2016 it was extremely difficult to get your hands on. Three of my friends and I went on a beer-pilgrimage of sorts in November 2015, driving from Connecticut up to Burlington, VT (about a ten-hour-round-trip journey) and strategically stopped at several package stores where we had heard Heady Topper was being delivered that day. After being laughed out of—more than a few—businesses, we eventually managed to buy forty-eight cans (a big thank you to www.headyspotter.com). Since then, The Alchemist has established a designated distribution and retail center in Stowe, VT, where a customer can reliably obtain their current selection of beers. Drink this with, well, anything. The cans are 16 oz., and at 8% ABV you’ll be feeling it after just one.

 

  1. “Profanity Ale” by The Shed Brewery, out of Middlebury, VT

            Brown Ale/6.8% ABV/68 IBU

Profanity Ale had me saying “well fuck, I didn’t know a beer could taste like that.” Several brews have made me say the same, but I’m a sucker for puns. This beer tastes to me like a combination of the India Pale Ale and the American Brown Ale, and given their extreme difference in taste profiles, I consider Profanity Ale to be an unprecedented and impressive fusion by The Shed. Drink this while reading any contemporary literature that crosses genres, like a prose-poem—especially if the writer drops obscenities like their casual modifiers.

 

  1. “Julius” by Tree House Brewing Company, out of Monson, MA

            New England Style IPA/6.8% ABV/72 IBU

New England Style IPAs have recently displaced West Coast Style IPAs as the current king of craft beer. Also known as “juice bombs,” they have a load of tropical fruit flavors and aromas; you could likely have someone take a whiff of Julius and get away with telling them you’re drinking mango juice. Drink while reading some Shakespeare or perhaps a poem by Robert Frost.

 

  1. “120 Minute IPA” by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, out of Milton, DE

            Imperial IPA/18% ABV/120 IBU

120 Minute is about the limit of what can be achieved in the world of beer. At 18% ABV, it is stronger than some liqueurs, and when you’re drinking you’ll become aware of that fact too. Flavors include booze and bitterness, and after imbibing your palette will be so overwhelmed that tasting anything else will be an impossibility. Pair with something equally potent, perhaps a few haikus or tankas.

 

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  1. “White” by Allagash Brewing Company, out of Portland, ME

            Witbier/5.1% ABV/13 IBU

If nothing I’ve yet listed has appealed to you, or if you don’t consider yourself a beer drinker, then start here. Allagash White is the everyman of craft beer; you can’t not like it. It’s like how when your friend doesn’t read much but wants to get into it, you start them off slowly with some pop-lit. Harry Potter has a wide appeal and is easy to read. Allagash White is like the Harry Potter of craft beer, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Rowling masterfully created a massive world in her renowned series, and Allagash has similarly brewed a reliably drinkable and approachable brew with “White.”

 

  1. “Three-Eyed Raven” by Brewery Ommegang, out of Cooperstown, NY

            Saison/7.2%/80 IBU

Over the last few years Ommegang has put out a series of beers inspired by the Game of Thrones television phenomenon. Although I can’t claim to have enjoyed any of these while reading the books (I read the novels prior to the beer’s existence), it’s an obvious pairing. Three Eyed Raven is my favorite out of these creations, and puts an interesting spin on the traditionally Belgian saison style; the beer is stronger and more bitter than most saisons.

 

  1. “Lil Heaven Session IPA” by Two Roads Brewing Company, out of Stratford, CT

            Session IPA/4.8% ABV/IBU N/A (but it’s probably around 40)

I have to pay homage to our magazine’s fair state, and Two Roads is quickly becoming our foremost brewery. Lil Heaven is a great session ale, and it’s easy to crush several of these babies. I recommend getting yourself a six-pack, a warm sunny day, and settling in for the long haul with a piece of literature that will engross you for several hours. Be sure not to have any responsibilities, and take a long snooze afterwards. No summer day better spent.

 

  1. “Arrogant Bastard Ale” by Stone Brewing, out of Escondido, CA

            American Strong Ale/7.2% ABV/100 IBU

This beer is divisive: people either love it or hate it. I happen to be in the former camp, and Stone recently started selling it for a song: ~$13 for a six-pack of 16 oz. cans. The words on the back of the cans explain it as well as possible: “This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.” Given it’s abrasive and divisive nature, I recommend pairing with a novel of similar repute: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger—a novel I also love.

 

  1. “Blushing Monk” by Founders Brewing Co., out of Grand Rapids, MI

            Fruit Beer/9.2 ABV/IBU N/A (but it’s very low)

 One of my father’s favorite brews, this will expand your beer-horizons. If you’ve never had a fruit beer, then you’re in for a treat. Sweet and tart, it’s brewed with fresh raspberries and is only available in-season. The color is a vibrant red and you’re ripe to be accused of drinking wine if caught with this in hand. It’s different, kind of wild, and simply delicious; pair with something similarly unique and apt to expand your literary horizons, like the 20th Anniversary Edition of the Long River Review.

Where I Am Going And Where I Have Been

By: Maggie Parker

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I live in extremes. People laugh when I say that, they smile at me as if they know what I mean. “You go from zero to 60. But you got that from me.” My mother has said to me. But she’s wrong, I’m not like her. My intensity is drug induced. My personality is an amplification of the girl who is and the Dexmethylphenidate that turns my brain into a machine. My body is the catalyst for the drug and my mind is ever-changing under its influence. It may seem like a small change, the dosage of Ritalin that I am taking, but those drugs sit inside my head. They change the version of myself that I get to show. They change my perception and, therefore, they change everything about who I am. My doctor says that my heart beats too fast now.

I am a being that was always meant to binge and purge. Physically. Spiritually. I drink coffee and booze and take more Ritalin until I forget that is who I am. Yet, I am a firm believer that we are inescapably ourselves all the time, the fakeness of our facades just reveals more about the person that is within. We may be revealed to ourselves occasionally by the strong voice of another, someone who first reveals themselves to us. This week, I found that spiritual snake-charmer in the words of Patti Smith. She wrote an article for The New Yorker in December where she discussed her experience while honoring Bob Dylan at The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony. The show, where she stumbled over a section and then had to restart, went viral because of the raw emotion that her performance depicted. I read the article and then watched her portion of the ceremony through the linked video. The song made me weep. It made me weep not for the person that I am, it’s too late for her—the currents of life are moving too strongly for me to figure out who she is now—but for the person that I was. A girl who did not have the emotional walls to protect herself from the extremes that pick her up and drop her faster than the sun rises and sets.

It was junior year of high school and my English class had just finished reading the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. I bring up this story in creative writing workshops all the time, I mention it at least twice a semester. I’ve always thought that my obsession with this story was due to Oates’ masterful ability to craft her characters and construct dialogue that drags her audience right into the scene. But I was wrong. I watched Patti Smith sing her rendition of Bob Dylan’s song at The Nobel Prize Ceremony and I was struck with an image of myself. I was sitting in my high school class, having just finished Oates’ story, and my English teacher played “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” by Bob Dylan. I remember being startled by the emotional upheaval that came from the song’s chorus, “It’s all over now, baby blue. It’s all over now, baby blue.” I asked for a record player for my birthday the following month. The machine that my parents bought me didn’t have any speakers, so I borrowed an old pair from a friend who was a theater techy. His speakers didn’t let you adjust the volume and the sound was low, if I wanted to hear the music I had to lie on the floor with my head at eye level with the machine. That worked just fine for me. The bulimia that dictated my junior year was so rampant and uncontrollable that I would eat a gallon of ice cream, vomit it all up, and then curl up in a ball next to the record player and let the pain from my stomach hit me in waves. I would turn on Dylan and wait for the harmonica to play him on. “You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last/ But whatever you wish to keep you better grab it fast.”

Patti Smith sang “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” as a tribute to Dylan at The Nobel Prize Ceremony. The song starts with the lyrics, “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?/ Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?” I did not make the connection between the beginning of the song and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, which uses that line almost verbatim (I was immersed in Smith’s singing and had not read Oates’ story in years.) After re-reading Oates’ piece, the irony of my fascination with a story of that name, just two weeks before the end of my college career, was no longer lost on me. I read through the story, still beautiful, but no longer as poignant as I had remembered. It was Dylan who had emotionally held me in that place in my life. It was Oates who was the catalyst for that discovery.

I had a friend in high school with eyes like the sun. Her mixed-raced heritage produced irises that started brown then expanded to amber, green, and blue. I would try to look into these eyes when she held me against the bathroom wall in our friend’s pool house, her mouth desperately grappling for my own. I used to write poetry about the colors in her gaze. I would stay awake at night during our sleepovers and write about the sun and how it touched me with flashing heat. I think she liked the attention.

These images of myself are only loosely connected. They were produced within the lifetime of a single person, but outside of that understanding they are just fragments. Before this, I have not been able to make the connection between these parts of myself because they are the result of the ups and downs of my personhood. When Smith wrote in her New Yorker article, “And all the things I have seen and experienced and remember will be within me, and the remorse I had felt so heavily will joyfully meld with all other moments,” I realized that I cannot hide these parts of myself from each other any longer. I am not a person divided, but a person loosely conjoined. I am a string of moments that flap together in a wind produced by the great expanse of my future and past.

Oates’ story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” ends with “My sweet little blue-eyed girl.” I wonder who would say that to me. I loved a boy in college that I was not allowed to love. He held me under the artificial, painted stars of Grand Central Station once, and then I moved past him into the depth of the train station and beyond. I loved a girl in college who could not love me back. Her eyes were deep and brown, perfectly framed by her tan face. These are the people that I imagine speaking to me. But they did not stay, and I may not have kept them. There is no violence in my connection with them, and that is what I have come to expect. I expect it because I receive it from myself. Therefore, I am alone with myself when I am being called “little blue-eyed girl.” I look at the speaker who calls to me and I do not know who that person is or where they want to take me.

“My sweet little blue-eyed girl,” he said in a half-sung sigh that had nothing to do with her brown eyes but was taken up just the same by the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him—so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.

Ghostwriters: A Valuable Tool for both Rappers and Politicians Alike

By: Sten Spinella

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(Creative Commons/ Flickr)

When the term “authenticity” comes up, it’s usually because the topic at hand is inauthentic. Authenticity, then, is hard to determine. Does it signify phoniness, or is it proof of validity? However, I am not out to define “authentic.” Instead, I’m writing to ask if authenticity matters.

In 2010, The Atlantic’s Wendy Kaminer wrote a concise polemic against ghostwriting, focusing on the crisis of hypocrisy created by political autobiographies that are ghostwritten.

Politico reports that freshman Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is ‘writing a book,’ and I suppose that’s an accurate statement if ‘writing a book’ means hiring someone to write a book for you,” Kaminer wrote at the time. “When political inexperience and ignorance are practically qualifications for office, why should literary experience or talent be required of authors?  People who can’t or won’t govern are elected to high office, so why shouldn’t people who can’t write win lucrative contracts to author books?”

I agree with Kaminer’s assessment of ghostwriting, especially regarding her recognition of the insidious nature of speechwriting: citizens associate the eloquence of these political performances with the politician rather than their resident wordsmith.

In a continuance of my crusade to include hip-hop in literary discussions, I see this topic as directly applicable to a one Aubrey Graham, A.K.A. “Drake.” He is the most popular rapper in the world right now. And, some would be surprised to hear, he has ghostwriters .

When I say ghostwriter, I don’t mean getting co-credit on an autobiography. Here, I am referring to the nationwide manhunt for the dude who supplied Drake with his bars. I’m talking deep state, black market type-ish. Each week, Complex or Noisey publishes some exclusive interview with Drake’s supposed secret scribe. This topic has been written about on hip-hop blogs, talked about on hip-hop radio and podcasts, and tweeted about, so I’d qualify that as a big deal within the music world.

However, if you ask a Drake fan if they still like/respect their hip-hop king despite the ghostwriting, you get the same answer a Donald Trump voter would give when asked about Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech, or Donald’s lewd “Grab them by the p***y.” comment. That answer being: “Who cares?”

Or: “I only listen to the beat, anyway.”

Or: “The music is the music, it doesn’t matter if Drake wrote it or not.”

There are several important reasons why this worldview is wrong. Within the music community, ghostwriting in hip-hop is a cardinal sin. Since Drake doesn’t really produce, and his bars are being written by someone else, he is merely the voice. If a fan of Drake claims to adore him only for his voice, they cannot be faulted. However, to believe that Drake belongs with the kings of hip-hop or even the upper tier of rapperdom is a fallacy.

Hip-hop is lyrics. MCs take pride in their verbal acuity. J. Cole, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, and A Tribe Called Quest, among many, many others, are artists who rap about how good they are at writing: “I mean I write poems in these songs dedicated to you when / You’re in the mood for empathy, there’s blood in my pen,” Kendrick raps on “Poetic Justice,” ironically a song that features Drake. “One day you tryna make rent, next day you in jail / Lord knows he meant well / So I take the pencil and write like a pen pal / Some s**t that’s darker than the tints up on the windshield…What you think, that’s the reason why this ink in my pen kills / Phoney ni**as until they are extinct, b***h I’ve been real,” J. Cole spits on “Before I’m Gone.”

Words matter. They are the backbone of hip-hop. Drake’s popularity and the general public’s disinterest in the topic of his ghostwriters bastardizes rap. The fact that Drake’s status was unaffected by ghostwriting claims – in fact, his sales continue to rise – shows a society that doesn’t value authenticity or truth.

All that I need to say is this: thank God for Kendrick Lamar. While Drake’s fans have concocted hackneyed defenses of their man’s multitudinous flaws, his detractors have grown bolder, and still, nothing has changed, a dynamic which reminds me of the status of the current President of the United States. Yet, a challenger has risen in the hip-hop world. An artist that is obsessed with wordplay, storytelling, and politics, one who values originality and ability over sales. It is important to acknowledge that something miraculous is happening with Kung-Fu Kenny. He’s selling albums, too . Perhaps this is a sign of a cultural awakening. I hope so. But maybe not.

If we pay attention only to the sound, and not to the source, we’re giving credit to the wrong people and paying entertainers to lie. There are segments of the population, segments I would include myself in, that yearn for something realer, rawer in our arts and culture. Which is why, depending on the circumstances, ghostwriters should either be elevated, or eradicated.

 

 

 

 

Lessons From a Graduating English Major

Emily Catenzaro

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I’m graduating from college in less than four weeks – finally. After almost 6 years at UConn, I’m now facing my last days as an undergraduate. Like a lot of undergraduates in my position, in-between the moments of intense senioritis and burnout, I’m feeling nostalgic. For the most part, my days at UConn have been happy ones. I had a routine, shared feelings of camaraderie with my friends and fellow students, and access to a beautiful campus that is still one of my favorite places to wander around. Life has been pretty good.

Because I’m already nostalgic, I’m in a headspace to share some wisdom I’ve learned during my undergraduate career. Recently, I stumbled across a blog post from Colum McCann’s new book, Letters to a Young Writer. Since many of his feelings are similar to my own at this time, I thought that I would connect his experiences to my own.

How to deal with other people’s success

“A young writer must also read her contemporaries. Fiercely and jealously. She must get her blood boiling. Shit, that author comes from my hometown. How dare they say what I want to say? Yes, rage, but a temporary rage. Not in competition, but in desire.”

You’re going to watch people become successful, both in college and in life. Two big lessons I learned from my years in college and in competitive figure skating:

1) People will randomly stumble across success, while others will struggle over a lifetime for it.

2) Whether you do or don’t find success has very little to do with what kind of person you are.

Good things are going to happen to bad people, just as bad things are going to happen to good people. The best way I know how to combat feelings of jealousy or inadequacy is to refocus on your own journey. Everything is going to happen to you in its own time because your path is your own and no one has lived your life except for you. In the meantime, don’t fall into the trap of measuring your life by others’ success. Focus on your craft, because no one else can bring your unique traits to the table. I love McCann’s metaphor about Ikea chairs: “They are not taking your job: your job is entirely your own, nobody else can have it, who else is going to finish your piece of literary carpentry, unless it’s an Ikea chair?”

Don’t be that person in your writers’ workshop

“Too many young writers think of themselves as writers rather than that which they have written. Get used to this: it must be on the page. So don’t walk around thinking of yourself as a writer. Noth­ing worse than an author constantly obsessed with himself. If someone genuinely wants to know, they will ask. Say nothing. At least until you need to say some­thing.”

I am graduating with a concentration in creative writing, which means I sat through a bunch of writers’ workshops. Over time, I learned this: workshops are a bangin’ way to meet other writers. The community is amazing, and being around so many likeminded, nonjudgmental people is an incredible feeling. But when it comes to the actual critique part of the workshop, take it with a grain of salt. In theory, workshops are supposed to be judgment-free zones. But the truth is, not everyone knows how to workshop without being an asshole.

The problem with the human ego is that it needs to protect itself when vulnerable, and writers’ workshops are pretty vulnerable places. It’s natural for the ego to want to vault itself above others when it senses a threat. But if you want to be around other writers and have them actually enjoy your company, you’re going have to learn how to suppress those urges. Try to be mindful of a couple things: don’t describe your work with ego-boosting drivel that makes you sound like a pretentious cad. And if someone else in your workshop criticizes your piece (or acts like a pretentious cad), try not to retaliate by giving their work a verbal beatdown in return. It’ll make the workshopping process far more enjoyable for everyone, and you won’t experience pangs of shame later for acting like a complete jerk.

Also, don’t be a dick in general

“Don’t be a dick. At the party. In the bookstore. On the page. In your own head. Don’t call people names. Don’t insult your colleagues. Don’t tell people how great you are. Don’t drink all the wine. Don’t ignore your friends. Don’t think yourself better. Don’t condescend. Don’t leave your partner stranded. Don’t talk about your contract. Don’t mention your advance. Don’t make a fanfare of yourself. Don’t patronize. Don’t humiliate. Just don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t be a dick.”

This piece of advice is pretty self-explanatory. Don’t be a jerk because somebody has something you don’t, and don’t make other people feel like crap because you feel like crap about yourself (this applies to workshopping as well.) If you find yourself in doubt, try to take the high road. Being a jerk has a way of coming back to haunt the jerk in question– and if you want to be a part of a world as small as the writing community, it pays to keep that in mind.

Read everything.

“A young writer must read. She must read and read and read. She must read everything that comes her way. The classics, the old books that speak to her from the shelves, the tomes recommended by teachers. Your mind can contain so much. The greater the agility of your reading, the greater the elasticity of your own work.”

It doesn’t matter what type of writing you enjoy. In order to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. After taking dozens of English classes in college, I feel like I’ve finally read enough to understand how little I’ve read. When relatives ask me what I plan to do when I graduate, my answer is: read everything that I can get my hands on. It’s an honest answer because, after I graduate, I plan on continuously and actively engaging in the literary world.

A few asides:

  • The ability to read everything, even the most boring of classics, is a skill developed through practice.
  • As a friendly reminder, you won’t really be missing out on anything substantial if you don’t refresh Instagram for the 18th time today. However, you will be missing out on great books if you don’t dedicate time to reading them.
  • Keep your Norton anthologies after your class is class is over. I promise that they’ll come in handy for reading the classics.

But also discern which books are worth reading

“Life is too short to drink bad wine, but it’s shorter still when it comes to bad books. So be prepared to jettison that book, but only after you have given it a good chance.”

The best advice I’ve gotten from a professor: if you hate a book, put it down. Life is too short. This may appear to contradict my earlier statement, but it’s purpose is to encourage you to trust your instincts. There are books you should try to muster through, even if they are boring. However, if you’re really offended by something, just stop reading it. There’s hundreds of millions of books out there, and the average person is only going to read a small percentage of them. Move on and read something you like.

Read poetry

I don’t have a McCann quote for this, but poetry is badass. If you had a teacher that made you hate it in high school, I am sorry for you. However, now that you’re an adult, you have a responsibility to change that attitude. Take a poetry class in college, or attend readings with your creative writing friends. I did the latter before I did the former, and going to readings is how I fell in love with poetry. Hearing poetry and reading poetry are totally different experiences. Go to some readings, or listen to some Button Poetry on Youtube. I promise, poetry is just as vital to the human experience as music.

Do the work

Finally, nothing works unless you do. Do the work, then work some more. Writing professors aren’t required to go out on a limb for you, but they love it when you go out on a limb for them. If you keep working, you’ll be amazed at how many people will come out to bat for you. Stay humble, work hard, and enjoy college. And when you graduate, take this philosophy and enjoy life.

A few final tidbits of advice:

  • Forgive yourself when you make mistakes.
  • Life is about change. Enjoy the time you have with the people you love, because people change and move away and break-up. It’s inevitable.
  • Try to be in the moment, because college goes by fast.
  • Editing is your best friend.

That’s all! Peace out, UConn. I love you, always.