At the End of the World: On Self-Publishing a Book and Whitworth’s Role

By: Sarah Michelle Cruz

Whitworth’s English Department offers an amazing class taught by Thom Caraway, where your final project is to literally publish a book. When I took it, the class was called, “Literary Editing and Design,” so we learned how to use In-Design in order to create every aspect of what our finished product would look like, from front to back: The book cover, to the binding, type of material, font, and the list goes on. At the same time, we learned some material editing aspects to prepare us for the publication of our own book.

It was a lot to compact into one course, but definitely rewarding. If you want to know what the self-publishing journey feels like, it’s a little bit like a process full of sweat, tears, frustration, excitement, trial and error. Editing in itself takes a large amount of time with a huge amount of attention to detail. Depending on how long ago you wrote your text, you might end up over-critical toward your writing. I remember that one of my classmates said it would be “a pain in the ass” if she found typos in her published copy. I laughed and didn’t think much of it until I found a typo on the first page of my finished product. In addition, learning to use the In-Design program is difficult in itself, and if you didn’t constantly press save, you have the potential to lose hours of work progress. Sometimes there are issues of missing details on the program, and the mistake is pretty visible in the printed produce. It all takes patience and a willingness to persevere even when your book doesn’t “look” like how you imagined it. But on that note, there’s potential for the book to look even better than you imagine it.

Watching my book come to life was incredibly fun. It is called, “At the End of the World,” and it is a compilation of short stories in the perspective of characters living in a time where the Earth’s trajectory toward spiraling into the sun is inevitable, and the world’s destruction is undeniable. It’s separated into five sections: North, South, East, West, and Andalusia Sky (the “fabled” city in the sky that is believed to survive after the Earth’s destruction), and each sections consisted of four short stories. I had a distinct image of what I wanted the book cover to be, but didn’t have the art skills to make it a reality. So I sketched an image of a man holding a suitcase, looking over the edge of a cliff with a giant orange sun behind him, then I sent it to my friend to paint it. Her adaption of my image is now the cover of my book! As I played around with drawing tools in In-Design, I found that I could create some interesting abstract images. Playing around with that turned into symbolic chapter section images, and the final few pages of my book consists of a series of abstract images that actually look like an explosion that dies down to nothing. That was just a fun result of playing around, which can happen to anyone during the publication process!

If you’re a writer and thinking of ways to publish your book, going the self-publishing route leaves you with many options to create it any way you want, and then distribute it any way you want. I’m currently in the process of figuring out how to publish my book traditionally, and that takes paying large amounts for an editor, finding agents, and waiting for a reliable publication company to publish the product. If anything, there’s even Amazon publishing. I would just encourage any writer to move past the fear of having your work “out there,” whether in a blog or published and sold in stores. You have something wonderful to offer, and the publication process will grow you as an individual, and help you to become a stronger artist.   

Sarah Michelle Cruz is a Whitworth Alum (’16) who majored in English Writing and Psychology. She is currently living in California’s Bay Area, focusing on writing her second novel and readying her first book for publication. She is also a singer/songwriter working on producing her music just for the sake of sharing it.

Bird of Paradise: A short story by Devon Clements

Every year, students and their selected papers attend The National Undergraduate Literature Conference, this year taking place in Oregon. As sort of a preview to the conference, here is an early viewing of the short story that Junior Devon Clements was selected to read.

Bird of Paradise
By: Devon Clements

Jessica had loved birds for as long as she could remember. Her childhood bedroom had been awash with the vibrant color photographs she had clipped from magazines or printed from her elementary schools library, featuring everything from the stunning bold plumage of tropical parrots to the everyday humble, yet nonetheless beautiful washed out browns and reds of Sparrows and Robbins. She distinctly remembered spending countless hours, dime store binoculars pressed close to her eyes, in the backyard of her childhood home, scanning the dense deciduous foliage for any sight of the avian creatures.  Even throughout her teenage years, through the loss of her mother to cancer, and her father to a motor vehicle accident; which Jess explained was unintentional, yet in reality, was due to her father’s crippling alcoholism which had set in at the loss of his wife, Jessica had retained a love and fascination for the birds of the world. In fact in her most honest and self-aware moments she accepted that the concept of flight was no doubt a strong sub-conscious attraction to the bird, for its ability to at any given moment leap into the air as if God himself were blowing upon their fragile wings and travel to another place, another land, another life. Though tragedy had struck her twice in her short existence she had refused to give up hope and had gotten deeply involved in extracurricular activities her senior year of high school, mainly focusing on raising awareness of the habitat destruction of the Amazon due to the savage use of palm oil by the large, and as she would be quick to point out, heedlessly greedy corporations of the world. These forays into public awareness raising were ultimately futile, and as she grew older her hope in a world change faded into a hope for policy change and eventually dissolved into a cynicism, which if left unchecked would consume her. College was never on the short list for Jess, after graduating from her un-prestigious, Midwest public high school she remained at her waitressing job at The Round-a-bout café, rarely venturing out of the small town she had lived all her life.

Years went by, as they tend to do, and Jess remained in the same insignificant township her only change in that of her profession, having lost what childhood hope she had once retained to the dark, dreary, and ultimately futile, pursuit known as life. Her joy now came only as flickers, snatches of a forgotten dream dosed out to her in the smallest of increments. That first drag on her smoke break, the exhausted sigh of relief as she slides into her old Dodge Neon accompanied by the mechanical click as her key slides perfectly into the ignition. She has learned to not only appreciate these moments, but to truly cherish them, as one would cherish a child’s smile opening his first Christmas present, the glint of true unadulterated happiness present, if only for a second. Jess still thought of birds, obsessively at times, but her only true and complete devotion to the creatures was through her dreams. As each night would arrive she would eagerly close her eyes, the soft cotton of her pillow caressing her head like the warm down of a mother hen, and she would began to free herself from the human filth of her life. As the physical space of her room left her, its stark white walls melting into the brightest tropical auroras of the rainforest, Jess would finally feel peace. She would spend countless hours gliding through the sky, her feathers allowing her to soar ever higher. The far off oceans and lands that in her waking hours were far beyond her reach could now be as easily attained as if crossing the street. Time, distance, speed, these were all things of the real world and within Jessica’s sub-conscious sleeping brain, nothing was impossible.

Slowly, in time with the degradation of her last remaining shreds of happiness, these fantasies broke into her waking world. Without her realization Jess found herself more and more absent minded, she was free of the despair and hopelessness of her stagnant, routine thoughts, and was instead allowed to exist in a world of fantasy. As those who have ever experienced a true and all-encompassing drug addiction will know, once the substitution of reality becomes a daily option, it will soon become more than a habit, it will transform into a way of life, a mantra repeatedly circling the mind of the user, leaving little room for anything or anyone else. This was the state of Jessica’s mind as she sat, motionless, her eyes trance like, seeming to see everything, yet at the same time nothing at all. The pounding bass of the music around her barely registered as her boss Joseph Olsen approached her, a large bald headed man exhibiting the outer characteristics of a person who once sought to be in one of the countless biker gangs which stream across the south, but has now retired into a resentful and exhausted nightclub owner. His brow dripped sweat as he hoisted some form of buckled harness over Jess, clipping it together behind her back. “That’s my girl, my sweet girl” he whispered into her ear as he tightened the straps on either side of her bosom. “It’s your time babe, your time to be the star of the show” he chuckled into her unhearing ear. Joseph attached the final part of her elaborate vest, a large matte silver carabineer that fit snugly into a hook at the rear of her new piece of equipment.

As the cable, which was now connected to Jessica’s vest, began to pull snug and slowly drag her off the stool and into the air, she remained oblivious to her surroundings. The pounding music surrounded her body as it dazzled amidst countless neon lights, illuminating her frame to the satisfaction of the men below. She climbed ever higher, and as her weight began to distribute she slowly began an ellipse through the air. As she passed an enormous mirror her eyes came in to focus and she looked. Before her was a women in her late 20’s, all signs of joy replaced by wrinkles and scarring which belonged to a women much older then she, yet, her body remained a picture of feminine attraction and was scantily clad in a small red and orange thong, the straps of which twinkled in the florescent lighting, above that her breasts barely concealed beneath a similarly bright top lay just below the straps of her harness. Her hair was arranged in a provocatively messy set of curls entwined with faux feathers, most likely synthetic and produced in a large coal burning sweat shop, inhabited by the lowliest of Chinese day laborers. This was the picture presented to Jessica, but when she allowed recognition into her vision she gasped as she span, weightless through the air, what she saw before her was the mesmerizingly beautiful plumage of the creatures she had loved all her life. She closed her eyes once more, the cat calls and jeering of the men below her replaced by the chirping and cawing of the rainforest, and as she continued to swing above the sexual and barbarous crowd below her, she let herself go and at last had become what she had dreamed of her whole life, a bird of paradise.

 

Devon Clements. Class of 2018. English Philosophy major. Missouri. Soccer. Coffee. Historical Fiction. Edward Sharpe. Of Human Bondage. Travel. Moleskine. Pens. Vans. United Kingdom. Trees. Gym. Literature. Sour. Northwest. Theatre. Explore. Skateboard. Run. Cats. Blue. Finishe

Professors in Public: Laurie Lamon at Auntie’s Bookstore

By: Emily Church

As hard as it might be to believe, professors do live in a world outside of Whitworth, especially English professors. Many of them publish research and different forms of writing and some go out and do readings for the general public.

A couple of weeks ago, Professor and published poet Laurie Lamon did a poetry reading alongside fiction writer Charley Henley. Although the reading was interrupted by the fire alarm going off, Lamon had the right amount of time to woo the crowd with her presence and poetry. After her reading, I asked if she would answer a few questions for me about her reading. I asked, “How do you decide what you want to read and how do you decide the order in which you will read your chosen poems?”

This was how she responded:

“The November 12 reading at Auntie’s fell right after the presidential election, and clearly it was a week of great, complex, and terrible pain. That is an understatement.  I wasn’t in an emotional place to give a reading, to be honest, that Saturday night. But the truth is that we need poetry more than we need the pain of isolation I myself feel, and know y colleagues and our students are feeling as we try to take in this outcome. Because we couldn’t believe it happened, because we believe in diversity, because we don’t feel the privilege of our white skin as we should, because we need art to make us better than we are, I tried to put together a reading that might offer something of a hand to whoever was hardy enough to show up on a cold Saturday night.

I started with two clearly political poems: “It was Hatred,” which I wrote as the U.S. – Iraq war began, and “The Man in the Guerrilla Suit.” I wanted to directly address issues of prejudice, and inhumanity.

At the center of the reading I placed “Thinking of the End of a Poem,” which I include below. I wrote this after the Easter season a few years ago. It was triggered by an occurrence in my neighborhood as I walked past one of the Hospice Houses in my area. I walk past this house many times a week and always look to see if there is anyone sitting on the patio, or if the “therapy dog” is out. Often the dog is there; I’ve never seen anyone on the patio. The poem ends with the crucifixion, and the darkness Christ endured. I wonder at that darkness. I wonder at the miracle of his humanity and suffering. This poem doesn’t then move to the resurrection. It wonders at the darkness.

I closed the reading with 2 poems that hopefully brought us to a place of quietness and ordinariness, which is to say, Joy.  In these dark weeks where we are heading into the season of Christ’s birth and presence on earth, we need to remember that, and let our fearful and aching hearts fill.”

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Laurie doing at poetry reading at Auntie’s Bookstore downtown

Laurie Lamon’s poem, “Thinking of the End of a Poem”

Thinking of the End of a Poem

The dogs pull toward the corner where the therapy dog

is loose, rubbing its face in new grass. The man on the sidewalk

will say yesterday was hard. We lost two last night in

hospice. Here, birdsong will open the trapdoor

of pines where light is always northern and follows the earth

west where I look when I can through the hum of green for more.

The man on the sidewalk finishes closing a car door, and leans toward Claire,

I will learn this is her name, who has a band aid on her forehead

and blood shot eyes. Her sweatpants are gray. The therapy dog’s age

is heart shaped from eyes to muzzle. In a moment

Claire will say she’s from South Carolina, and smoke her cigarette

to the butt and not drop it to the sidewalk.

At the end of the poem it is bedlam, as when there came

sudden darkness—no one prepared, foretold, no shadows telling

time, crossing tables, the beaten ground, no lamps smoking

and everyone still, not knowing this waiting and for what.

The body had been crucified and raised and for three hours

looked into darkness with the rest of us.

Mindful of the Change

By: Devon Clements

Exploring the traverses of the internal,

Like some long forgotten picaroon.

Delving into the abstractions,

Contrasting like the bloody snow.

One sunset is another, and who am I to stay between?

 

I thought one day perhaps I’d find it.

The search as fickle as our hearts.

Lost in the endless sea of time

Each day we yearn to break our backs,

For the sake of the forgotten dream.

 

As drink is to the alley dweller,

So too does it quench my thirst.

It leaves me yearning ever-after,

I’ve been stumbling since my birth.

 

I didn’t ask for what I’m given,

Never sure of what I’ve got.

The song, methinks is ending,

I only have one more shot.

 

Devon Clements. Class of 2018. English Philosophy major. Missouri. Soccer. Coffee. Historical Fiction. Edward Sharpe. Of Human Bondage. Travel. Moleskine. Pens. Vans. United Kingdom. Trees. Gym. Literature. Sour. Northwest. Theatre. Explore. Skateboard. Run. Cats. Blue. Finished.

The Harvest Party: Following Rule #4 of Being an English Major

By: Jordin Connall fall-dog

I know, I know, you’re all wondering “but I don’t like going places” and I understand that really I do, but the things is, you will one hundred percent not remember that night you stayed home and got an early start on your weekend homework. Take, for example, the recent harvest party put on by Westminster Round. There was poetry and games and tons of random food stuffs to nibble on (and/or feed to the tiny wizard your have hidden in your hoodie pocket). Was it awkward at first, of course it was.

We’re English majors for crying out loud, we were born awkward and uncomfortable. But we do not stay that way, once we get enough sugar in us and someone breaks out spooky Halloween poetry, everyone loosens up and really interesting academic and non-college-student-fallacademic conversations occur. It’s very easy not to go anywhere on your friday night, but as I’ve said before you definitely did not stay up with your roommate talking about Advanced Calculus (or whatever horrid torture device you prefer).

English parties are relaxed and fun and give you the opportunity to meet new people with whom you will be sharing classes for the next four or so years. They are havens to develop and find your very own discourse communities of like-minded individuals. Even if you’re not an English major, and I pity those of you that aren’t, you can come and talk about books, or movies, or your secret desire to learn unicorn husbandry (see John Pell for more information). All I’m suggesting is that you try it a few times, you might like it.

Who knows, you could end up accidentally forming an English karaoke band an hour and a half after the party was supposed to be over.

Jordin Connall is a Senior English Major. Her hobbies include: long walks on the beach, making baked goods, taking long walks on the beach with baked goods, and interpretive macaroni art.

A Lesson in the Ambiguous

A short story by: Devon Clements

The sun had set long ago and the city now stirred as a dark and bleary shadow of its former self. The roads were empty, save for the occasional passing car, on some journey of their own and the two men glided through the intersections, guided by the green lights and a mixture equal parts fear and adrenaline. Inside the cab of the 98’ Ford F-150 the tinkling sounds of broken glass rattling against a metallic baseball bat emanated from the floorboard, filling the air with the auditory notion of violence. The driver was focused but looked shaken, his eyes pointed straight ahead never once leaving the road, but perspiration stood out on his forehead magnifying each passing street light. His hands gripped the steering wheel causing his knuckles to stand out, white as marble in the dark space of the truck. Between him and the passenger sat a faded and worn green Jansport backpack, its irregular bumps and angles suggesting its contents had been haphazardly shoved inside. The two didn’t talk, nothing could be heard except the steady and repeated rhythm of tire on wet pavement, the gentle whish whish creating a soundtrack to each of their racing thoughts.

A light ahead caused the driver to start and he motioned to the passenger with a quick nod as he flicked on the turn signal and began to decrease in speed. The gas station and liquor mart parking lot was empty except for a single beat-up Dodge Neon and this satisfied the anxiety of the men as they slid into a parking spot and cut the engine. The break in constant movement gave them a reassuring and removed sensation which neither could pinpoint. The passenger opened the truck door and nimbly hopped out, turning around to make eye contact with the driver before firmly closing it behind him. The driver saw him disappear into the sickeningly illuminated store and then lost sight of him amidst racks of cheap packaged food and oil cans.

He now sat alone in the cab, his hands still unconsciously on the wheel and absently staring at the reflection of bottles caught in the large plexi-glass windows in front of him. After a few minutes the passenger reemerged from inside and jumped back in the cab, a single plastic bag clutched in his left hand. He pulled out a bottle and handed it to the driver as he took one for himself. The iconic gold and maroon lettering sent a wave of nostalgic energy through them both, as they twisted the lids off the triangular glass cylinders of Olde English. The driver took a large swig, the tang of malt liquor coating his mouth, as he started the engine and pulled back onto the street. He glanced to the passenger and breaking their long held silence asked, “Are we gonna make it?” The passenger’s lips curled into a sardonic smile as he turned, a glint of some forgotten youth in his eye, and he answered, “Does anyone?” The road stretched out wide and free before them and the night promised shelter, at least for a few more hours.

Devon Clements. Class of 2018. English Philosophy major. Missouri. Soccer. Coffee. Historical Fiction. Edward Sharpe. Of Human Bondage. Travel. Moleskine. Pens. Vans. United Kingdom. Trees. Gym. Literature. Sour. Northwest. Theatre. Explore. Skateboard. Run. Cats. Blue. Finished.

How to Survive Being an English Major: Some Unsolicited Advice

By: Jordin Connall

Step 1: Accept that tears are part of the gig for any college student and buy stock in Kleenex while you can. Similarly, accept that at some point(s) in your English career you will need to sit by and pretend to study while your table-mate quietly sobs, it is imperative that you stay cool and for the love of all that is holy never mention this occurrence upon seeing them again.

Step 2: Switch arms please, the Norton is heavy. No one wants to see a hundred pound waif-like sophomore with one arm like a toothpick and the other the width of a goal post. I also suggest something more suitable than a book-bag for day-to-day readings, perhaps a children’s wagon, or maybe even a miniature plow horse? Think about it.

Step 3: Realize that the Norton can be used for a number of different things, some of which include: a step stool, a paper weight, backpack theft-deterrent [see suggestion 2], a pillow if you don’t mind being uncomfortable, substitute for a Kevlar vest, and if you’re absolutely desperate. . .reading material.

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 Step 4: Go to the book sales, BBQs, and whiffle ball games, to name a few. I know it’s a lot to ask when season five of Sherlock has just aired (Speaking to you Class of 2020), and the most sentient beings you intended to speak to were your laptop and that latte you’ve been stroking lovingly like a newborn baby, but trust me the outside can be fun sometimes. I personally didn’t go to any of these events until my Junior year, and I missed out on meeting an entirely new group of nerd friends (Nriends? Ferds? I’m working on it). Professors will be at these gatherings too, giving you a chance to meet them outside of class and see them change from scary scholarly folks into people that will help you grow and transform in your academic career. Plus you can find out if it’s true that Doug drains the blood of a randomly selected freshman in a Viking ritual sacrifice (don’t worry I won’t ruin the surprise, you’ll have to go to find out for yourself).

Step 5: Never stop reading, even in the summer. Despite how appealing sleep may sound, and trust me it’s not all that your non-collegiate housemates try and claim it is, read all the time. Read, read, read, read. “It will make you a better writer and a better person,” (A Really Credible Source, Wikipedia) reading has the sole ability to transform your grammar and communication skills all without seeming heavy-handed. Read for the rest of your life, and then after that read to other ghosts (pro tip: ghosts seem to really love Poe).

Step 6: This is going to be a doozie, but bare with me. Relax. I know it sounds irritatingly simple and prosaic, but really, take a chill pill. Every time you are about to panic about that really long paper that is due in exactly seven hours, take a deep breath and relax. You will not remember this paper in five years, five hours, minutes, whatever. Don’t slack off and forget your responsibilities in some made-for-TV-movie depiction of college, but realize that your life is defined by so many other things than that one paper or that one class.

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Step 6: Look over everything before you turn it in. It’s astounding the dumb mistakes people make and don’t correct before turning them in, even for really important papers that everyone will get to see. Some people, I tell ya.

Step 7: Come up with snappy responses as to your chosen career for well-intentioned family members ahead of time. These will come in handy around any major holiday. Examples include: homelessness, a professional clown, beat boxing, correcting grammatical errors in the YouTube comments section, or becoming a teacher.

Step 8: But most of all, give yourself a pat on the back for choosing the area of study superior to all others (like anyone uses math anymore right?). English is the area of study that connects us to one another and the world. We are the group of people that can read something and glean meaning from it. This power is fundamental to what makes us human, our ability to communicate with one another in complex and constantly evolving ways. John 1:1 tells us that in the beginning there was the word. Take your words and change the world.

Jordin Connall is a Senior English Major. Her hobbies include: long walks on the beach, making baked goods, taking long walks on the beach with baked goods, and interpretive macaroni art.

2016 Summer Reading Recommendations

Alright. Now that we’ve had some time to relax and decompose after finals, it’s time to start reading! Lucky for you, your favorite professors have offered up some good recommendations to keep you busy this summer. Happy reading!

First, suggestions from the wonderful Casey Andrews:

My list includes things I am actually working on this summer rather than books I’ve read fully and wish to recommend. Most of these I’ve started and am eager to get to in their entireties.

1)      Richard Jenkyns, Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond.

Jenkyns is a renowned classics scholar who has written essential studies of Jane Austen and the use of classical writings by Victorian authors. Since 2004, Jenkyns has held a position at Oxford as “public orator,” and the role suits him well, speaking with depth and insight to popular audiences. This latest book is a chronological survey stuffed with sharp readings and occasional jabs, guiding us toward the best works by great classical authors. If you have been unable to take Leonard’s class on The Epic (or simply need a refresher), this is a fantastic book for you. http://smile.amazon.com/Classical-Literature-Journey-Virgil-Beyond/dp/0465097979/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461799878&sr=1-1&keywords=jenkyns+classical+literature

2)      P. N. Furbank, E. M. Forster: A Life.

This biography is typically considered the definitive life of Forster and, like Richard Ellmann’s Joyce  and Carlos Baker’s Hemmingway,  one of the great examples of the genre. I’ve read Forster in scattered ways—a couple of the early books, a few late essays, A Passage to India numerous times—but with Furbank as my guide, I’m looking forward to following Forster’s work in total.  http://smile.amazon.com/E-M-Forster-Life-Harvest/dp/0156286513/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461799467&sr=1-1&keywords=furbank+forster

3)      Vera Brittain, Testament of a Peace Lover.

I’ve dipped into this selection of Brittain’s letters written for a pacifist audience during the Second World War, but this summer I will finally get to read cover to cover. (Alas, I don’t foresee time to go to McMaster University and read the complete collection. Some day…) http://smile.amazon.com/Testament-Peace-Lover-Letters-Brittain/dp/0860688437/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461799733&sr=1-1&keywords=vera+brittain+testament+peace+lover

Now from the fantastic Laura Bloxham:

I have three categories of recommendations for summer reading. First, I’ve been rereading classics this year: late Austen, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion; Wilkie Collins, Woman in White; Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd. Nineteenth century novels are deep luscious places to spend time. If you’ve read Jane Eyre, read Villette; if you’ve read David Copperfield, read Little Dorrit. Spread out the reading over lunch hours.

Second, read beach trash. I read mysteries. Try Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), The Cuckoo’s Calling. And then the next two in the series. Intriguing play on the American mean streets tradition: man wounded in battle comes home, is lonely, opens a detective business, hires a secretary who is not the ditz Sam Spade would have hired. Or pick your own books that do not require you to mark them and do analysis.

Third, read a good piece of non-fiction, a provocative piece of history or biography of something that takes you out of your own preoccupations. Consider Bryan Stephenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. This book is a largely narrative-based account of individuals unjustly imprisoned and the fight to restore their freedom. Stephenson spoke on campus last year.

 

And now…

Vic Bobb’s response to the call for a recommendation for a book worth reading this summer:

So. It’s summer. Time to travel the world…except that you’ve got a job at a fruit stand that’s going to give you a half-day off every Wednesday (until the cherries come in over the Fourth, when all leaves are cancelled)…or at Powell’s (so you don’t want a day off)…or running a grain elevator (which leaves you wishing you could get as much time off as your cousin at that fruit stand)…or selling hot dogs from a pushcart at a beach on Lake Chelan (so you’re too broke to travel even if you did have more than two days off in a row)…

So. You can’t go there? Read your way there. Fly, on the wings of Fiction. Here’s a book suggestion from every continent (with a little cheating on Antarctica). I’m suggesting novels that I don’t think anyone else is going to recommend.

Africa. JM Coetzee, Life and Times of Michael K. (South Africa, 1983) Saying cheerfully that this novel is not as bleak, hopeless, and depressing as Coetzee’s Disgrace is approximately like insisting that it is good news that you have arterial bleeding rather than final-stage bubonic plague. But Michael K is a fine work of art, Coetzee can write, and the book’s final image is actually hopeful and positive. Sort of.

Asia. Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country. (Japan, 1948) You’ll still be noticing fresh delicacies and details in this narrative the sixth time you read it. Shimamura loves and is committed to the purity and beauty of art as intensely as is Bohumil Hrabal’s Hanta in Too Loud a Solitude…but Shimamura could never be mistaken for the little man in a Prague cellar compacting wastepaper bales….

Australia. Nevil Shute: choose one from among In the Wet; On the Beach; Beyond the Black Stump; The Far Country; or No Highway, and you’ll probably want to read the rest (and more). Shute is Australian by adoption; among the books I’ve suggested only No Highway dates from before his 1950 emigration from Blighty to Oz. Not a deep artist, but a wonderful storyteller—with a full two dozen worthy books to choose from.

Europe. Michel Quint, In Our Strange Gardens (France, 2000) A very fine novella based on the experiences of Quint’s father in occupied France, and afterward. You will be horrified to discover that you have burst into spontaneous cheers for…an act of utilitarian ethical decisionmaking in a book about Duty and Doing the Right Thing Because It Is Right.

North America. Douglas Coupland, Microserfs (Canada, 1995) Once you’ve been delighted by this romp among Silicon Valley / Redmond types, you’ll want to back up to Generation X (1992) and Shampoo Planet (1993 and set in the Tri Cities, though not officially), and then to leap ahead to jPod (2006). Other Coupland novels tend to step on their own shoelaces late in each book. That’s a shame, because at his best, he’s good. (If you like these Coupland novels, give Englishman Nick Hornby a try. And if you like Hornby’s High Fidelity, About a Boy, How to Be Good, or A Long Way Down, take a look at Coupland.)

South America. Humberto Costantini, The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis (Argentina, 1984) An insidiously draw-you-in novel so interior as to make Proust & Woolf look like action-thrillers. It gets better and better and suddenly it is best. A very [very] fine—and disturbing—novel, indeed. [Those unfamiliar with the Dirty War need to learn a little bit about Argentina in the late 1970s before reading this book.] Do not glance at the last pages of this novel before you arrive there legitimately. This is a gut-punch-ending story, and even a hint of what’s coming would do incalculable damage to your experience of the book.

Antarctica. Cheating. Read Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, the 1838 The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

Bonus Continents. If you’re not already familiar with the novels of Penelope Lively and Pat Barker (England) and Anne Tyler (USA), make http://www.betterworldbooks.com your next stop. For Lively, start with City of the Mind, The Photograph, and Moon Tiger; then read everything except Heat Wave. In Barker’s case, read Union Street, The Ghost Road, and Double Vision; then go to town on her remaining novels. For Tyler, start anywhere and keep going.

Happy Summer, regardless of where you are.