Recent Reads #3: Short (but not exactly sweet)

Here are the other three recent reads I wanted to recommend, which aren’t really linked in terms of form or content. The most apparent similarity between them is that they’re short. So that’s what we’re going with.

Sum by David Eagleman paperback cover

David Eagleman

There’s no evidence that suggests there is an afterlife or what the afterlife looks like if it does exist. So, neuroscientist David Eagleman embraced the infinite potential offered by this unprovable concept and wrote 40 completely different post-death realities.

This teeny book will take you no time at all to read, but it’s full of so many ideas that I refuse to believe anyone can put this down and not feel at least a little astounded. The book also left me feeling creatively inspired, it’s great imagination fuel.

Some of these inventive tales also inspired a great deal of existential dread.

The first tale, “Sum”, presents an afterlife where you relive all your experiences, but they’re categorised, grouped together and then you live them one-by-one. To illustrate what I mean, you sleep for thirty years, read magazines on the toilet for five consecutive months, vomit for seven hours straight, and so on. It’s the kind of story that makes you question how you’re spending your time.

Meanwhile, “Circle of Friends” presents an afterlife populated exclusively by the people you remember. I look at the people I’m fortunate enough to have around me. If this were the world I discovered after my passing, it wouldn’t be so bad. However, never meeting a new person is a sad thought, which was a reminder for me how much I do genuinely like meeting new people.


Just the punctuation

Left: Just the punctuation from the opening of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Right: Just the punctuation from Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner.

I recently read Clive Thompson’s article on what he learnt about his writing by seeing only the punctuation. He also created a website for anyone to paste their writing into and see just the punctuation for their own analysis. You’ll even get a graphic similar to the one above. So that’s exactly what I did.

Seeing just the punctuation of your work — aside from looking pretty — is a useful tool for analysing your writing quirks. Here’s what Thompson realised about his own writing after seeing just his use of punctuation:

I use a lot of parenthetical statements. I also write very long ones. Looking at that graphic, I can see about seven parenthetical statements, one of which contains a hefty fourteen pieces of punctuation, including an internal colon: ( “ ‘ — “ . — . , ‘ , : , , . ). That’s a really long, complex parenthetical.

So what’s going on here? It made me realize I cram my writing with lots of digressions; which is probably related to my thirsty desire to seem so very smart and clever; which itself stems from some intellectual neediness I am able to keep partially — but not entirely — in check; and which also likely explains why I often chain many many phrases together with semicolons, as if I were some Victorian dude peering through his steampunk monocle while cranking out pay-per-word pieces for The Strand. (But I digress.)

To get a graphic as lengthy as the one above, you need to post around 6,000 words. So I took four lengthy pieces I’ve written between 2014 and now to see what I might learn from my own writing. I also wanted to know how much would have changed.