Category: Writing

Down the Non-Fiction Rabbit Hole

Posted November 2, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature, My Essays / 6 Comments

The quote by Socrates “The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know” has been on my mind for quite some time. There seems to be no truer statement to describe how I feel at the moment. One of the reasons I spend so much time reading is because I want to learn. Fiction can tell us so much about the world around us, and the experiences faced by different cultures. I am drawn to translated fiction because of what it can teach me about the world. It has taken me some time but I am slowly been drawn to non-fiction as well. Reading recently Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich (translated by Bela Shayevich) and Wild Swans by Jung Chang I discovered just how much about the world I still need to learn.

While Russia is a particular interest of mine, Secondhand Time gave me some insights I did not realise I needed. This is a stunning collection interviews collected by Svetlana Alexievich of people just talking about their personal experience with the collapse of the USSR. I thought I had a decent grasp of the history of the Soviet Union but this book shattered it completely. It is not enough to understand the basic history, life is much more complex and there is so much more to learn. I need to know more about post-Soviet Russia and I plan to learn, starting with The Invention of Russia by Arkady Ostrovsky.

Wild Swans is a biography of three generations of women living in China. Jung Chang tells the story of her grandmother, her mother and then herself, the experiences they all faced in a rapidly changing country. Her grandmother, grew up in a world of foot binding and warlords, while her mother saw the rise of Chairman Mao and communism. This is a story that spans from the Manchu Empire to the Cultural Revolution. It was here I discovered a deeper understanding of communist China; I would never have known about the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution in such detail without the personal accounts found in this book. If I combine my love for Soviet history, I find myself wondering if I should learn more about communism in other countries. Do I dare to try and compare the differences?

nonfiction2016

There is so much to learn and I feel myself being drawn down the rabbit hole. I have identified three major interests that seem to be the current focus of mine when it comes to non-fiction. This is Russian history, philosophy and books about books. I know this is only the tip of the iceberg and I will be venturing down so many more paths in the future but for now I will start here.

With my love of Russian literature, I feel the need to have a deeper understanding of their history, especially surrounding the politics. Not only will this aid my understanding into the literature I am reading but it will also help me better appreciate the satirical nature that is often found in Russian literature. I am slowly working my way down this rabbit hole with books like Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum, a look into the way the USSR treated Eastern Europe and Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich (translator: Antonina W. Bouis), an oral history into the nuclear disaster in 1986. Even a book like The Zhivago Affair by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée has been useful; not only does it explore the story of Doctor Zhivago but the impact it had on the world around it.

A new love for philosophy started with At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell and now I want to know so much more about Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and Søren Kierkegaard. But I do not plan to just stop at the existentialists, I have so much to learn. My knowledge of philosophy may have come from a novel called Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (translator: Paulette Møller). There is a lot more I could learn from the philosophers, and I have started my journey, with Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche (translated by R.J. Hollingdale) and The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant.

Finally, my love for literature has drawn me to reading about literature. Not just memoirs and biographies, although you may notice in my reviewing that I find context important. So a memoir or a biography gives me a deeper appreciation of the literature. A memoir like Little Failure gave me a greater understanding about its author Gary Shteyngart and a collection of letters and diary entries called Manuscripts Don’t Burn (translated and edited by J.A.E. Curtis) was a valuable insight into Mikhail Bulgakov. But then there are books about the reading journey that are entertaining to read, while still being a valuable part of my own reading life. I am talking about books like The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller, 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff and Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. I can be very particular about books about books, the tone has to be right, their taste in literature and the way they talk about literature is equally important, and so for my money I would recommend Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman as the pinnacle in this genre of non-fiction. My reading journey is far from over, in fact it is only just beginning. Having only spent six years as a reader, I have so far to go. It is all part of my never ending quest to become well read. I will be focusing on reading more non-fiction, starting with these three interests and branching out.

Following the path of knowledge wherever it might take me. I look forward to talk about my journey as I continue and would also appreciate any recommendations.


My Hot and Sticky Blog Re-evaluation

Posted July 7, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in My Essays, Writing / 2 Comments

It is often a good thing to re-evaluate your life, your goals and if you are a blogger like me, your blog. I have been thinking about this for a while and decided it is time to refocus. You may have noticed that I have not been as active on my blog as I would like. I had this goal to write something about everything I read, plus I wanted to do more than literature. However due to motivation, work and other plans, I have not achieved much at all on here. I would say I have about twenty books to review but is it really worth the effort? Maybe, but does this achieve what I want to achieve.

For the longest time I wanted to be a writer, I never was sure what I would write but it was something that was always in the back of my mind. When I started reading and blogging, that desire slowly faded, to the point where I convinced myself that I was not a writer. This became a problem, as I would always dismiss myself and any ideas that I might have. The ideas kept swimming around in my mind; I was just not doing anything with them.

It took me a long time to change my thinking, I am a writer. I may not be a writer of fiction but I love blogging and that is a form of writing. It is a skill I want to build and improve. I want to write more engaging posts and the only way to do that is to practice. My blog is a collection of my thoughts and writing and I can see improvement happening. I am happy to be write about literature instead of writing literature. I am happy in my own writing universe but I still feel the need to push the boundaries.

I started a BookTube channel as a way to develop my skills at communicating and ultimately become a better writer. I got addicted to the community and my writing started to suffer. I need to find the balance. The channel Stripped Cover Lit proposed a #HotAndSticky novel writing challenge. Similar to NaNoWriMo but instead, you have a more manageable 488 words a day over the course of a few months (June till September). I decided to join in as a way to push myself further and see if I can in fact write fiction.

story ideaI think 488 words a day is a good way to start developing a writing habit again and try something new. My first novel idea was to write a hard-boiled detective novel with a female protagonist. I wanted to explore the pulp crime genre but I also wanted to explore the idea of how women are treated in a male dominated job and even go into sexual manipulation and abuse. I had a great plot lined up but it was not working on the page. I do not know if I have the ability to write plot heavy stories, I tend to rush through the story arc.

I quickly put this idea on the backburner and decided to try something different. This idea was to explore a grumpy bookseller as he reflects on life and attempts to find a connection with someone, in a world he does not understand. I hoped that trying a transgressive story would work for me. I want to try developing a character and seeing how the idea progressed from there.

I did not have much luck here although I did found some fragments that I enjoyed, I just felt like a failure. Reflecting on this, I asked myself what type of writer I wanted to be and a few names popped into my mind. Mary Roach for her entertaining and educational style and Anne Fadiman for the way she wrote about books. Both authors are witty and knowledgeable; two things I admire greatly about their writing. I have come to the conclusion that if I want to write like this, I need to change the focus on my blog.

I still think reviewing is an essential skill to develop and I will continue to work on that. I have to stop reviewing every book I read and start practicing essay writing. I would love to write about my journey into literature in different essays, and develop that skill. But I also want to develop a more educational approach. A busy work and life schedule means I cannot achieve everything I want to achieve right now, but I need to work towards my goals. I would like to say ‘expect less reviews and more essays’ but this is a work in progress and I am not sure what the future will hold.

You can expect changes, but I feel like I am still trying to develop the skills I want, I think in order to do that, and I will need to try. I am a little unsure how to best write an essay but this is the place to experiment; Knowledge Lost houses a lot of my writing and blogging from when I first started. Most of it is embarrassing but it is a not so subtle reminder on how much I have improved.

I have some ideas planned and to begin with, this may be very focused on literature and my reading journey, I hope in time I will be writing about an array of topics. I hope this is enough to reinvigorate my passion for blogging and writing. Giving me the freedom to explore without the reminder of how many book reviews I am behind. I hope you will continue with me on this journey and if you have a topic you would like me to write about, I would love to know it.


Write 750 Words Every Day

Posted July 27, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Writing / 2 Comments

writeRecently I have been trying to build a habit of writing every day. This was in the hopes to build good writing habits and improve my writing abilities. I decided to use a site called 750 words to help develop this habit. Basically the site sends me a reminder every day to write 750 words. It is a great little site, I’ve been using it to write drafts for my future blog posts and get down my blogging ideas as I go. I have written a lot of thoughts about the books I’ve been reading as I go along and I’ve noticed it has already started to have a positive effect on my blogging.

Not only have I got a record of my thoughts throughout the novel, it has helped me connect those thoughts I tend to forget about with a much larger idea. I’ve been notoriously bad at note taking and keeping a record of what I have thought of a book while reading but this has been a huge help. Not only have I forced myself to sit down and write about books but also since I need to make 750 words a day I often write more drafts and I’m hoping that shows through in my blogging.

One of the negatives I have notice about forcing myself to write is I am starting to get anxious about my writing. The other day I found myself getting upset with my wife for cutting into my writing time. I try to set a time to write every day after work and sometimes I finish it before she gets home but not all the time. My finger muscles are starting to hurt, I thought I typed enough as it is but it turns out that maybe I haven’t been and at times I have to type through the pain. Who knew that fingers had so many muscles that could hurt?

There is one really cool thing about the 750 words site that I find really cool and that is the stats. The site has put together so much information; I didn’t even know I needed that much detail but it has been interesting to see what it says. It analyses the text via a few different systems; a Regressive Imagery Dictionary (for the emotions), and a Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count system. I’m not sure what that means but it is interesting to look at the statistics it provides.

Currently I am on a 21 day streak and this post will go towards the 22nd day. I’ve averaged around 1200 words a day and it takes me about 47 minutes to complete 750 words. This is only a small glimpse of the data it gives you; it even has a daily breakdown. Some of the data is a little strange; I’m still trying to work out how I got a PG rating for sexual content from my review on The Secret Garden. I could have mentioned the secret garden being a metaphor for her sexuality but I don’t think I went down that road in that review. This post was actually rated PG for sexual content and violence if that makes any sense. It even tends to think I’m an extrovert in my writing, mostly feeling self-important and talking about leisure activities (I’m guessing that is books).

I am not sure how the data would help but it does provide me with some entertainment. I am more excited about the 21-day streak, I hope I continue to develop some positive writing habits and improve. Let me know if you have any suggestions that might help me improve as a writer and develop a good writing routine. Lastly I have to mention that 750 words is free to try for thirty days, might be enough to get you into a good habit. I’m not sure if I’m going to pay the $5 a month to keep my 750 words account but I think the positive impact it has had in my writing is pushing me towards continuing.


Half Yearly Review – 2011

Posted July 12, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Writing / 0 Comments

The first 6 months of 2011 went really quickly.  I don’t think I got a chance to write a blog post every week but I was really impressed with myself and what did end up on my blog. A few interesting miniseries showed up over the past six month, including a look at Picasso with Picasso – The Icon Breaker & Guernica; Picasso’s Masterpiece. The highlight for me was my Romantic period series; A Quest for Liberty, The Romantic Bond With Nature and then the quick look at the three most known romantics; The Romantic Brooder, The Romantic Bad-Boy & The Romantic Celebrity.

 In regards to popularity with the readers, here were the top 5 posts;

5. Autodidact Vs. Higher Education
4. What is Wrong with Dark YA Novels?
3. What is a Cult Book?
2. My Literary Wall of Shame
1. What Would You Read in an Introduction to Fiction Course?

As for my reading goals for the year, I’ve been working through some really amazing books and I would recommend the following books, based on what I read in the past six months;

5. Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson (2011)
4. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (2010)
3. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2006)
2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

 I’m really happy with how this year has been going for my blog, I know there has been a bit of a focus on Literature lately, but I hope no one is thinking I’m neglecting a topic. I write a topic based on what has been on my mind and what I’ve been learning so you may get batches of one topic. I do except a lot more to do with literature in the future but I won’t neglect the other subjects; I promise. Is there a particular topic you would like to see here? Anyone interested in doing a post for this blog?


Burning Realisation: I Can't Write

Posted April 7, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Writing / 0 Comments

Over the past few weeks I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I really not very good at writing. I think I’m getting better at blogging, but for someone that aspires to be a writer, I’m not good at it. I’ve had to take a step back and evaluate what I’ve been doing wrong.

If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.

Stephen King, On Writing, p. 147

I’ve been reading a lot and I’ve been getting lots of great ideas on what I want to do with my writing, from style, plots, metaphors. But when I go to write a novel, I really do lack the skills to get very far. I’ve decided I have to change my approach. I have to learn the art of writing. I can’t give up; I still have a burning desire to write.

The only reason for being a professional writer is that you just can’t help it.

Leo Rosten

So I’ve reached a decision to give up trying to write a novel for now. I need to practise my craft, and build up to attempting to do something like a full novel. I read an interview with Carlos Ruiz Zafón (who wrote the brilliant book The Shadow in the Wind) that he always had this book sitting in the back of his mind but he needed to gain the skills to attempt writing it. So Carlos Ruiz Zafón began his career writing books for young adults. While I don’t think I have the skills to write a full length novel, I think the idea of starting small and building up is a smart move.

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Thomas Mann

So I’ve decided to set myself a new writing goal; to focus not on completing a full length novel, but to focus on honing my craft. To do this, I’ve decided to focus on writing short stories (not limiting myself to a word count); I’m hoping this will help develop the skills to write more complete and interesting stories. Currently I’m aiming at a short story a quarter, but I will see how I go.


A Look Back at 2010

Posted January 7, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Writing / 0 Comments

With 2010 now behind us, I thought it was time to review some of my favourite posts and book of the year. I’ve been neglecting my blogging a little, as I’ve been focusing on my reading (ended up reading a total 87 books for the year). I’m hoping 2011 will be different; currently aiming for one post a week.

Blog Posts

10. Trying to Understand Existentialism

9. Twin Peaks and Dream Interpretations

8.  Five Books That Changed My Life

7. René Magritte’s The Lovers

6. My Goals for Knowledge Lost

5. Poetic Shock

4. Evolution of the English Language

3. Education Vs. Passion

2. Did Pop Culture Destroy Literature?

1. Nec Spe, Nec Metu (Without Hope, Without Fear)

Favourite Books Read in 2010

10. Fatherland by Robert Harris

9. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

8. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

7. Animal Farm by George Orwell

6. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

5. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

4. Maus by Art Spiegelman

3. On Writing by Stephen King

2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë


My Goals for Knowledge Lost

Posted November 26, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Writing / 0 Comments

My wife and I decided to look at our goals in life and what we would like to achieve as a couple and individually in the next one to five years. Of course, my dream involve writing & my blog. It is obvious that I would need to put in a lot of work and study into achieving my goals and that’s fine, but I feel like I’ve come up with a plan to help build towards these goals.

Knowledge Lost has primarily been about my personal growth in Art, Culture, Philosophy and Literature. I feel that if I want to be able to able to get a job or do something related to these topics, I might want to learn how to teach people about them.  As you may be aware there are four little windows across the top of my blog which have been used to display the most recent post in the four primary topics of my blog. What I’m planning to do is change that; I’m going to transform them into launching pads for a basic lesson in the four topics of my blog. This way I’m still learning and I’m also compiling an action plan for my future, just in case I ever get the opportunity. This also starts me building material for possible ebooks in the future.

This is going to be hard to do and will take a lot of work, but I would love to know if anyone has a wealth of knowledge in Art, Culture, Philosophy and Literature. I don’t want to have these turn in to personal opinions and would love to have someone I could ask for advice and bounce ideas off in regards to these issues. This will be a workin progress for me but will make a big change to me and my blog.


William S. Burroughs & Surrealist Writing Methods

Posted November 19, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature, Writing / 0 Comments

Post-modern author, William S. Burroughs is best known for his experimental writing style.  He was a primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major influence in popular culture as well as literature.

In 1959, he released Naked Lunch which he described as “Automatic writing gone horribly wrong”. Previously, I have posted about Automatism, but it is a process of writing where the writer tries to avoid conscious thoughts.  Burroughs has said that Naked Lunch wasn’t a book he wanted to write, but he had no choice but write it: he couldn’t write anything else.  When it came to using André Breton’s method of automatism; where the subconscious focuses on one image or phase, Burroughs found his subconscious was taken over by a hostile entity. The results speaks for its self, Naked Lunch is not only full of obscene language but completely weird.

William S. Burroughs moved to Paris in the 1960’s where he met a painter named Brion Gysin. The two of them are often credited for rediscovering an old surrealist method known as Cut-up. This technique is when you take a finished piece of text, cut it up and rearrange it for a completely new novel. Burroughs experimented with this technique, which resulted in The Nova Trilogy; also known as The Cut-up Trilogy. The first book in the trilogy, The Soft Machine, was the result of the two on a journey (with the aid of some recreational drugs) to find hidden meanings in Naked Lunch. Using the cut-up technique, Burroughs wanted to find the answer to the question that had been plaguing him; the question of control; why did he have no control over the writing of Naked Lunch? The Soft Machine was first published with 182 pages; though in the second edition Burroughs removed 82 pages, replacing them with another 82 pages & with the other 100 pages, he rearranged and restructured using further cut-ups.

William S. Burroughs will always be known for his Beat influences, political trenchancies, cultural influences, his satirical writing and hopefully his experimental use of surrealist writing methods.


The Ten Commandments of Writing

Posted August 17, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Writing / 0 Comments

Recently I read an article from the Writer’s Digest that I thought was fascinating that I had to share it with everyone. Of course there are no real rules for writing but below would be the top ten issues to focus on when trying to become a professional writer.

1. Take yourself seriously
If you’re not going to take your writing seriously, it will be hard for anyone else to do the same. Writing is part of who you are, not just a pastime.

2. Act like a professional
When it comes to your work, try to be professional about it; it is important to take the time to look at the grammar, punctuation, spelling and even format of your work.

3. Write your passion
Forget what’s popular at the moment, write what you’re passionate about.

4. Love the process
If you want to be a writer you will need to learn to love what writing involves. If you don’t like spending time in front of a computer, rereading or rewriting, you will find it difficult to love the process of becoming a writer.

5. Read—a lot
It is very important to know your genre, to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. To do this you need to learn to read lots; it will help your writing style improve.

6. Stick to a schedule
Personally, I’m a procrastinator, so I never get any writing done. Especially for me, I need to schedule time to write and I need to stick to it.

7. Be critical of your work
All writers end up being their biggest critic; don’t be to upset with your work, it is a necessary evil to help improve.

8. Develop thick skin
You will receive a lot of criticism and rejections, it is important not to take it personally and analyse logically. Not everyone has the same taste, and not everyone will love your work, but these rejections will help you improve your work.

9. Trust your editors
Editors and trusted readers of your working progress are there to help you polish your work. You have to learn to trust them in order to get the best version of your story possible.

10. There are no certainties
All in all remember that there are no certainties in life, just write and enjoy yourself.

If you want to read the full article you can do so here. I just wanted to share this list with some of my opinions. Are there any more commandments you would add to this list?


Best of the Past Six Months

Posted July 1, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Writing / 0 Comments

Six months ago I started Knowledge Lost, though it wasn’t called that till later. I started this blog as a way to try and explain concepts and things that I had been learning. It was a real change for me; originally I didn’t have an interest in art, culture, literature and philosophy. I had an interest in writing and music; so when I started this I was lost a little, I wanted to try and make sense of what I had been learning, so the blog emerged.  I combined previous blogs about my writing and what I had been reading to create this blog. I was very luck to find some readers and commenters really quickly which has helped me immensely along the way. Knowledge Lost took off really well, and I’ve managed to get well over 5,000 views (over 110 posts) in this period and readership appears to be growing. I hope this blog has been enjoyable for the readers as much as it has been for me.

I wanted to take the time to share with you the top 10 posts so far and my favourite ten.

Top Ten Most Popular Posts so Far

10. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States

9. Spirituality and The Arts

8. Did Pop Culture Destroy Literature?

7. Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

6. Adjectives and Adverbs

5. René Magritte’s The Lovers

4. Nec Spe, Nec Metu (Without Hope, Without Fear)

3. Does That Sentence Flow?

2. Evolution of the English Language

1. On Writing

My Favourites so Far

10. Trying to Understand Existentialism

9. Twin Peaks and Dream Interpretations

8. Killing An Arab

7. René Magritte’s The Lovers

6. The Medium is The Message

5. Poetic Shock

4. Evolution of the English Language

3. Disarm a Modern Frankenstein Story

2. Did Pop Culture Destroy Literature?

1. Nec Spe, Nec Metu (Without Hope, Without Fear)

I would love to know your favourite posts so far and if you have any feedback or suggestions for this blog please feel free to let me know here.