Reading Response #7

Select one of the stories assigned this week, and post a 500-word response below on what you saw as the story’s strengths and weaknesses. Compare the selected story to the other two stories you read.  Similarities?  Differences? Be sure to also make a comment on a classmate's response for full credit.\

20 thoughts on “Reading Response #7

  1. Tometria Jackson

    The stories selected for this week’s reading were not what would naturally appeal to me, and so I had to set my bias aside to objectively critique the two stories and the instructional information in ‘Building Fiction’.

    The first story I read was ‘Cathedral’ by Raymond Carver. I was instantly put off by his style of using very short sentences. I felt like they chopped up his ideas and were distracting from the flow of the story. I tend to use a longer sentence structure when I write, and so I found myself reformatting his sentences to please my own tastes. Once I got over that , I was puzzled at his abrupt references to her first husband; the author just grabbed him and injected him into the story without any context or build up. I thought he was referring to himself in the third person, but as I read on, I saw that the author was speaking about a previous relationship. As the story progressed, the content became pretty dark, culminating in a suicide attempt which I thought was another abrupt insertion into the story.

    I didn’t really like the character who is telling the story, and so I had a hard time connecting with Cathedral. I really felt this dislike over his reaction to the name ‘Beulah’–he assumed that she was ‘colored’ and he wondered if the blind man had married a ‘negro’. All of this was said with extreme distaste, and as a black woman, I was absolutely offended. I even looked to see when this was written due to the archaic ideas about who was suitable to marry and the character’s total lack of realization that his presumption was bigoted. The author redeemed himself a little toward the end when he began to see the blind man as a person who is blind rather than just a walking disability.

    The second story, ‘The Things They Carried’ was a hard read as well due to its content. I don’t like war stories, and particularly the ones from the Vietnam era. I hate the politics that put innocent lives (on both sides) in harm’s way for a political agenda that didn’t seem to benefit either side. The author’s constant reference to Ted Lavender, a soldier in their group who was killed was annoying to me at first, because I thought he was being repetitive. It seemed like he mentioned Lavender’s death in almost every paragraph, but then I understood the reasoning behind that; it was the foremost thought in the head of every soldier. They were trying to come to grips with the realization that their lives could be snuffed out as suddenly as Lavender’s.

    I’m still in the process of reading ‘Building Fiction’, and I’m finding it very helpful. I like the author’s instructional style, and her information is exactly what I need for the last writing assignment in this course. If I had more time, I would do the exercises listed at the end of every chapter because they remove the fear of attempting a large work by guiding you in small steps toward that goal.

    1. Lilia Lundquist

      I felt the same way about Carver’s story, I found it very difficult to read. Primarily due to the short sentences and the offensive content.

  2. Lilia Lundquist

    Out of the three assigned stories, I enjoyed Tim O’Brian’s The Things they Carried the most. I’ve read the book multiple times and enjoyed even reading just a snippet of it. I did notice that this section had quite a bit of repetition which I think might irate people who don’t read the rest. But the emotion and descriptive language allows for an in-depth look into what these various men are experiencing. O’Brian is able to give you a vivid sense of the groups relationship to one another. While they are all working together as one he describes each man in such detail I almost felt as though I knew them. I understood why when Ted Lavender died the men who had already endured so much were incapable of feeling any intense remorse, instead it was a mixture of empathy and shock. I also enjoyed the love story aspect included between the lieutenant and a woman who would never love him. The story was already filled with remorse and sadness but to incorporate that small aspect made it more relatable to a larger audience. On the other hand, I could not stand Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, the tone and the fact that each sentence was about four words long was obnoxious and difficult to follow along with. I felt as though I was reading something a child had written, it was abrupt and dull. I thought the story could have been interesting if someone else had written it. I also was immediately turned off by the fact that the narrator hated a man almost instantly because he was blind. As the story progresses I still had a difficult time enjoying it. There was not much going on besides very short casual dialogue and the narrator giving his perspective. Overall I just found the story very intriguing. I considered the level of detail to be the biggest difference between the two stories. O’Brian filled his sentences with descriptions and allowed his characters to become alive. While Carver had minimum effort put into detail made for visuals and instead showed progression of a mindset and relationship. When it came to spotting similarities, I found this more difficult. I think because I enjoyed O’Brian’s so much and just wanted to be done with Carver’s I couldn’t relate the two. They just seemed more different to me than anything. I considered Building Fiction to be helpful in the same way I found Bird by Bird to be helpful. While it lacked that humorous aspect it gave insightful ideas and tips to better your writing. I will keep the most memorable ones in mind for future use. I am not sure I could say I thought it related to either of the other readings. Due to the fact that is was more of an instructional read while the other two were merely fiction. I thought there was a good variety between the three and I was able to appreciate various styles of writing, even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy Carver’s.

    1. Kelsey

      I agree, I just couldn’t get into Carver’s story. I was trying to find a tactful way to say “I just didn’t like it.” Ha! I’m glad to hear The Things They Carried is from a book! I will have to look that up because I really enjoyed Obrien’s story and would love to read the book to hear more about the characters and what happened to them. I also enjoyed Bird By Bird a little more because of the humor, who doesn’t like to laugh?!

    2. Tometria Jackson

      Your comment about having read the entire book, ‘The Things They Carried’ several times intrigued me. I often do that with stories that I find compelling. I was curious about the relationship between the lieutenant and the girl back home. I could tell by the tone of the story that it wouldn’t work out between them, but I was hopeful. Perhaps I’ll give this book a read.

  3. Kelsey

    I liked Building Fiction because I feel like it is instructional and can help me with this next assignment of writing our own story. Creative writing is not something I have done for other people, or really for myself, so I have been learning a lot through these readings and the poetry pack readings. I feel like I am building on my knowledge while reading something I enjoy. I didn’t like Cathedral as much. I usually enjoy darker stories, and like to feel as if I am getting inside someone’s head while reading, but I just felt like this story was written kind of randomly and also a bit racist. I should be more open to reading those types of literature because that is the way some people think, but I just find myself to be immediately put off by characters who think or speak that way, as well as put off by the author. I know I probably shouldn’t feel that way, because they may just be writing a story and it may not reflect how they actually think or feel but it just makes me feel uncomfortable.
    I enjoyed The Things They Carried the most. I like that the author focused on Lavender’s death and how the whole story focused around that time period and how each soldier was feeling at the time of his death and what they were thinking about it. At the same time, it focused on the Lieutenant’s personal life the most and told his story a little more. At first, I thought it was because it was going to be some sort of love story for him, but then I realized it was because how his love for Martha distracted him from his work and lead to him feeling an extreme amount of guilt and grief over the way Lavender died. O’brien did a good job of describing scenery in an unusual way. He described their physical surroundings of Vietnam a little bit, but mainly focused on their personal belongings as scenery. I really liked this because it gave you a snapshot into each soldier’s life and what was important to them, but also described the very personal setting for each soldier by describing what they carried in their packs. You got a look at what each soldier saw every day and this did more for me as the reader than just hearing about the geography of Vietnam. I liked how the story came full circle and ended with Cross talking about how he was going to do better for his soldiers and not let the excuse of being young and in love hinder him and his men anymore. This story drew me in well and I would be interested in finding out more about the other characters, what happened to them, and what kind of leader Cross became.

  4. Courtney Williamson

    Reading Response #7
    Book 1 “Building Fiction” by Jesse Lee Kercheval
    I loved reading through this whole book, you know at first I was thinking it was going to be about building structures as in buildings ha. Of course now I know that after reading through it, it is about building a story or a fiction story. This book goes into detail and I mean dividing the pieces into sections. Using bold print as the topics and going into what that topic is about instead of going off subject. The second book “The Cathedral” by Raymond Carver is a little vague. They don’t name the wife so sometimes it’s confusing on who they are talking about. Apparently the narrator and his wife used to work for Robert, who was blind. They both don’t have names in the story so, it is something to try and get used to. This is how it is a little more different from the first book. The first book is so much more detailed and organized and this one about the couple is a little boring. The third book I read “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’ Brien, was better to read for me. It was like little stories combined in one but the author used the same characters. It was nice to read, and being a veteran it took hold of my interest a little bit more.

    1. Benjamin Hayward

      Building Fiction Chapter Six had the biggest impact on my Space Opera Novel I have been writing before this class started, causing me to re-write much of what I have done, which is good to do. Which chapter caught your interest the most?

      1. nmfleming

        I agree with you, while I was reading “The Cathedral” I was confused about what was going on in the story, not having the names in the story I think was what made it confusing to me.

  5. Benjamin Hayward

    I enjoyed reading Cathedral by Raymond Carver. It is written in a third person past tense, with an active voice. It actually reminds me of the TV show Family Guy where in one episode Peter Griffin, the main star, narrates his life for 2 weeks. I enjoy the writing style, but I could care less for the racial overtones or the sexual tension of possible adultery or swinging party that is being hinted.

    The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien was referenced in the work Building Fiction by Kercheval. It opens with a technique called Into the Pot, Already Boiling. As former Marine and unit leader I can appreciate the details of pocket lint. Pocket lint is things you find in someone’s pockets that can tell information about someone. When gathering intelligence on the enemy or a person pocket lint can tell a lot. As O’Brien details the items in their pockets, he realizes he is giving us intelligence about these characters, so we can make decisions about them, and their future actions. The reason for detailing the weight of so many items is that the weight is necessary, heavy, and is a direct showing of responsibility that each character must have. Lt. Cross must take care of his men, thus the details about love and caring. Rat Kiley has M&M. This is a source of ready sugar and dealing with shock trauma. Big men are naturally stronger than smaller men, so Henry Dobbins is described as having extra food, heaviest gun and ammo.

    The real gym this week has been Building Fiction. I have learned much from this reading, and it has changed my prologue greatly for my novel Space Opera. I am still plucking away at it, writing ideas and scenes as paragraphs every day, thinking how to string different parts along. I’m going to have to change much of what I have written, but that is o.k. I will not erase it, just add new stuff to the bottom and keep going. In this way I think I have an advantage over my class mates for I already have material to work with. I am giving my work polish, adding some of it as a 1st revision, some a second. The creative writing assignment #7 is allowing me to further clarify my principle setting.

    Reading about the techniques in Chapter Two defines and names what the technique I am already doing. It is a combination of Opening Statements to the Jury and Into the Pot, Already Boiling. Chapters three and four is about Point of View, which I chose as 3rd person and 1st person mix. I have a tool for jumping between the 2 views that does not throw readers off. Word tense and view mix ups are the bane of any writer’s existence. I hate having to go back and re-read something to figure out what happened.

    The most useful chapters have been Chapter Five, Constructing Characters and Chapter Six, Conflict in Fiction. The exercises at the end of these chapters have allowed me to further define my characters and outline the rising and falling action along with the overarching plot. It has really given me direction because it has established a blue print of sorts for me to follow, kind of like plug and play.

    1. Courtney Kisner

      That’s great that you have a lot of material already! I also did not like the racial overtones in “Cathedral”. I thought that compared to “The Things They Carried,” it almost fell flat. I loved how all of that “pocket lint” told us about the characters. I am looking forward to reading the fiction piece you are working on!

  6. Courtney Kisner

    “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver is unique in tone. The voice of Carver is clear, and you can really hear the personality of the narrator through the pages. His opinion on just about everything is clear, and you are never left guessing what he thinks. Everything he describes is drenched in his opinion. In this way, it read like a story you hear someone telling you. He described his wife and the blind man with details, but also let the reader fill in some of the blanks themselves–he let the reader’s imagination pull some of the weight. I really liked that about the story. It was easy to read, and I didn’t get bored or distracted by it. I love the message resonating throughout as well. The husband almost seems jealous of the depth that his wife and this blind man have–this avenue of communication that he doesn’t quite understand. It seems to make him uncomfortable. But the dynamic switches when the wife is asleep and is out of the picture for a bit. The tone changes, and the narrator has to confront something in himself that not only makes him uncomfortable but it also causes him to dig deeper. He has to empathize with the man, in a sense. He has to “see” through the lens of the bind man, in order to describe the cathedral to him. The strength in this piece was the bit of humor, but also the potential depth if the reader wants to read into the symbolism.
    “The Things They Carried” in my opinion, was even more engaging. I actually preferred this to “Cathedral”. The tone was heavy but everything was stated so factually, that it never got particularly sentimental in tone. I loved the details, which were very strong and also were multidimensional because they were used to describe each character. What the men carried was a metaphor as well, which I think helped make it so powerful. The fact that the narrator did not have a strong opinionated hold on the piece helped “The Things They carried” excel, in my opinion. There was some humor thrown in there as well. I liked the part where the author said, “depending on numerous factors, such as topography and psychology, the riflemen carried anywhere from 12 to 20 magazines,” because of its dry humor. It was this dark humor that was woven into the details and specifics. The story was a great way to show a different perspective of the war. Being able to imagine the physical weight the men carried, as well as the weight they carried when one of their brothers died was something for the reader to contemplate. At first I did not think I would get into this story because I thought it would be like those military history books I used to have to read. But I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Like Kercheval said in “Building Fiction,” it really is good for you to read a variety of books, no matter the genre, because you can learn something from everything. That diversity and knowledge all helps one’s future writing.

    1. Delaney E Reece

      I really appreciate the description you were able to give of the narrator in the cathedral. I had a really hard time seeing anything past my own opinion about them and missed some of the positive qualities that character had. The description you gave brings a lot of this to light and I only agree and understand that after having read what you’ve written.

  7. nmfleming

    I read Building Fiction by Jesse Lee Kercheval. I read the first chapter which was called Sources for Fiction. In this chapter Jesse Lee Kercheval talks about different places you can find inspiration for writing a fiction story. It was a very good and informative read, I won’t have thought about getting ideas from reading something else. The section on finding inspiration through language was very interesting. In this chapter there is a section called Beware of Stale Ideas, in this small section it talks about not talking ideas from television or movies. When we take ideas from T.V. shows or movies, everyone has access to that media, so it makes coming up with a fresh or original idea might be hard to catch your readers attention or interest. I didn’t realize that taking ideas from T.V. shows or movies could cause your story to be boring. The last thing that this chapter talks about is getting ideas from life. This one I relate to very much, I feel that when I write my fiction stories I get my ideas from things that happen in my life, recently I wrote a setting which talked about the rain just because that sort of weather has been happening a lot in Fairbanks. So I find it easier to write about things that happen in my life than the other two methods talked about in this chapter, but I am going to make an effort to try out the other two methods.

    1. Shana Waring

      I found the first chapter to change my focus on trying to complete this short story assignment. I feel like we have had some strong structure, character, and setting read thus far, but Building Fiction seems to help tie the work together. Like we have been told before in Bird by Bird we need to take in all of the information we are thinking of putting on paper. Leaving out pieces can change an entire story for us. Just as limiting ourselves in places and with senses that can develop a story for us to share in writing.

  8. Delaney E Reece

    The Things They Carried was by far much more to my taste than Cathedral. I appreciated that there was more use of metaphor and symbolism, and that the focus of the story was not based on an event, but more on an idea.
    I generally dislike the style that was used in both of these works, and I do think that the reason I just like both of them equally in that aspect is because they were very similar. The narrator’s means of description and explanations red in a similar fashion to me.
    In the case of The Things They Carried. I was able to understand what time frame and where the story was being written about long before the author divulge that information. There was enough description early enough on that I understood the context was Vietnam. The early description of things in a symbolic or metaphorical sense was also important to me as a reader. The fact that it was introduced so early on made it easy to notice moments for their symbolism when they were less explicit.
    In the case of the cathedral I immediately deeply disliked the narrator. Although I could tell they came to grow as a better person by the end, and became more understanding and more open this is not change my opinion of them. In The Things They Carried there is an intense emotional connection to all of the characters developed, which I appreciated. In the context of Vietnam and the descriptions that were given of these men, not all of them are flattering, and it is very likely the men are not kind or good but I did not dislike them like I did the narrator in the cathedral. I think this is specifically because of the kind of language used by the author, and the way the author describes other characters in their drama.
    For example in The Things They Carried, it is very obvious that these men all care for each other deeply. It is obvious when Lavender is killed that they all are shocked and grief-stricken in their own ways. In the cathedral there is none of this caring camaraderie. The narrator is particularly harsh about the blind character, and the lack of use of the blind characters name by the narrator, even in the end when they’ve grown closer is very frustrating to me.Because of this, I feel as though there is something missing from the story, that the author has left out important details about the narrator or that a more obvious change should have been visible from the reader’s perspective. There were moments where I felt like it was almost there, and that big questions were about to be explained and then it was left flat. that is not something I experienced in the other story, which felt complete and well developed in terms of the characters involved, and there were substantially more characters to be described and developed.

  9. Shana Waring

    This week’s reading felt like a strange combination, but I believe that came as an introduction to a number of styles of writing. “Cathedral” is a piece I read previously although the title didn’t ring that information to me immediately. As I worked my way through the tough, short read I began recognizing the author speaking in the third person. Although this can be difficult to read and to write, I find it to draw me in nonetheless. Raymond Carver is a great writer and should I be able to open my mind to his writing a bit more, I believe I could learn a great deal from his style.

    I found “The Things They Carried” to be another interesting way of writing. I think it would be difficult to write a story from so many different character point of views. Yet somehow O’Brien was able to achieve multiple feelings of a traumatic event for a group. There were many different thoughts I worked through with the characters, setting, and the overall message(s) of the story. It was nice to see others have read the novel and found the entirety of the piece to be better than the edited short story.

    “Building Fiction” tied together with a good chunk of information we have previously been introduced to in this course. One new piece I took from the read was in the chapter about building characters. Kercheval spoke about giving each character a distinct voice. This may seem like a no-brainer type thing, but it can easily change the feelings of a character when they are not given a strong enough voice or too strong of a voice. The character progression may lead the amount of dialogue or spark of each character a bit different than what the writer originally intended. Making sure the changes are made to allow for each character to hold their own place in the story can make the difference between an okay and a great read.

    1. Kait

      Yes, I thought how it was written in third person was like listening rather than reading, if that makes sense, which seems more smooth to me.
      I read The Things They carried before too and I was surprised to see how much information and details were left out of the edited short story!
      Tim O’Brien really captures what might each individual is going through, how they feel, who they left behind, what kind of person they are.
      The part that really spoke to me in Building Fiction were the exercises, maybe because I don’t feel strong in coming up with ideas for a short story and the exercises showed me all of the different possibilities. Yes, a character is important, like if you focus too much for too long on one character then it might bore your readers. It’d be really neat to find that balance where your characters are all interesting and they interact with each other at the right times.

  10. Kait

    The Things They Carried was very engrossing. The descriptiveness of the things they carried were a reflection of who they are like being addicted to dope, germaphobic or gay. It makes me think of the saying that don’t judge a person by their cover because you can look at a man and never know if he liked was religious or not. Everything they carried had one of two purposes, either for indulging or a necessity. It’s almost emotional how each items weight is felt every step of the way and every man chooses whats important to make it worth the trouble. Each necessity has many different purposes like the poncho how it was used for sleeping on, keeping the rain off of you or (the unexpected twist for me) to bury you in if you perish like Ted Lavender. Some of the last resort things are also reflections of their background like Kiowa and his feathered hatchet.
    The story of Jimmy and Martha was very relatable which I think is important for a story because at one point or another, everyone experiences unrequited love. Also, we as readers are curious by nature, so it naturally we’d be reading on the story to find out if Jimmy and his men make it or if Martha falls in love with Jimmy and they marry if Jimmy goes home as a war hero. The image of the photographs is so real, imagining each man having a picture of a loved one to gaze at when the going gets tough. All of these different characters have distinct personalities which shows through their actions like Ted carrying extra rounds because he was scared. I like how Tim O’Brien stuck with the same characters in his story, because we get to have a sense of closure instead of moving from one snapshot of a soldier to another, never coming back to any of the previous characters. How O’Brien describes how much weapons and weight they carry makes for a good mental image of what the man might look like. Like after the descriptions of what Dobbins eats and how much he carries makes me picture a big hefty man. The deadly weapons they carry makes me think that each man must know how to work each of those, so they must be almost experts in that area. Some of these weapons alone I’ve never seen, but can only imagine the damage it would cause. The setting of the tunnel is the most interesting, the thoughts of fear the #17 man would have, did anything ever happen to that man? In the beginning of the story, the things they carry are literal, but at the middle, it starts on what they carry emotionally. I thought the downside to this story was that it seemed like it droned on for longer than necessary.
    The Cathedral by Raymond Carver wasn’t as descriptive as Tim O’Brien’s, but it was filled with more mystery. In the middle of the story, I wasn’t sure how the interaction between the blind guy and the husband would be, but I was actually enlightened to read how close they were and seeing why the blind guy and the wife were such close friends because he has a different point of view on life, making the most out of everything even without his sight. The husband was really skeptical, but the blind guy appealed to his better nature which I think would end in a close relationship like his wife had. At the ending, the husband sees why the woman marries the blind guy and why his wife is so close to him. This story is more about relationships whereas The Things They Carried let the objects descriptive relationships between the characters.

  11. Keyana Marshall

    “The Things They Carried” kind of put me in that mulled over, reheated, uber cliché M.A.S.H, Forrest Gump, Saving private Ryan, Veteran’s day type of scene. I just knew at any one of these lines someone was going to ” Can’t feel muh legs” the story plot and it happened in its own way. But it wasn’t a terrible story. What makes it tolerable is that the characters add personality. That definitely stopped the war time cliché from sinking the story, in my personal opinion.
    I found it strange that the main character was convinced that martha was just a friend, yet heavily obsessed over weather she was single, or a virgin, and even pretended they were in love. The behavior struck me as that of a tweenage girl.” Martha wrote that she had found the pebble on the Jersey shoreline, precisely where the land touched water at high tide, where things came together but also separated. It was this separate-buttogether quality, she wrote, that had inspired her to pick up the pebble and to carry it in her breast pocket for several days, where it seemed
    weightless, and then to send it through the mail, by air, as a token of her truest feelings for him. Lieutenant Cross found this romantic.” Then after Lavender dies, he suddenly didnt have the same affections as he used to. or had an emotional issue. it was almost as if Martha was the thing he carried. I noticed the reading and some had booze, smokes, bibles, talismas and etc. The title of the story reminded me of the things they carried throughout the story.

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