August 2022 Leisure Learning

by Melissa Haas
published in Writing

Are you getting excited? Is your literary heart starting to quicken? Why? Because it’s almost fall, and soon a good portion of us will be reading under the golden light of autumn. Is there anything so romantic yet word nerdy? I think not. as many in our community head back to the classroom, I thought it appropriate to choose items along the lines of “Bookshelves & the Big Picture.” Two picks for the month, The Moth podcast and The Universe in Verse, are particularly soul-elevating. The same could be said of The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s comedy, albeit in a different capacity. Here are your somewhat lofty, somewhat silly Leisure Learning selections for the tail end of August:

Architecture Meets Literature

In China, each Zhongshuge Bookstore is an architectural feat. In fact, Architectural Digest recently recognized their Chengdu store for being able to create the feeling of falling into an Escher drawing. The photos alone are surreal, and it’s trippy to imagine what it would be like to walk up and down stairways that produce spatial illusions. At another location, Chongqing, books and reading nooks are showcased in a way that feels more like an exhibit than a merchandise display. Finally, if you’d like to see a gravity defying art installation, by which I mean bookshelf, the photos of their Shenzhen location are literally out of this world.  

The Moth (5-15 mins)

The Moth (the radio show/podcast) is one of the best audio productions out there, IMHO. They’ve been around for almost two decades and feature “true stories, told live” by the people who’ve lived to tell them. What separates these stories from similar but lesser compilations is that the editors are very careful about selecting stories that literally glow with humanity. They are short, deeply touching and well told.

As such, there are a couple of reasons why I’m recommending The Moth specifically to the DIY MFA community:

First of all, their story archive (link in heading) is a treasure trove of realistic character inspiration. The life experiences presented here can add unique texture to both your characters and subplots.

Second of all, the stories told are often in a non-linear form, very much the way that meaningful events present themselves in real life. Often, people have to hop-skotch around their lives to make sense of specific experiences and studying these story forms, specifically what makes the realistic story entertaining and how to string together disparate events into a cohesive narrative, are rich sources of short-form study material.

Finally, I know that we have many authors working on memoirs or planning to write one. The Moth’s platform is a good excuse to either revisit an anecdote or jot one down that you think is worth telling and submit it.

One of the reasons The Moth is so well known for having high-quality content owes to professional involvement. If someone submits a story and it is interesting enough, but not put together very well, a pro-writer steps in and helps polish the story up. Here are their tips to help you get started.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company: Complete Works Of… (97 mins, hilarious, occasional swearing)

Since it’s heading-back-to-school time, I wanted to include this theatrical, tongue-in-cheek overview of Shakespeare that parents will be able enjoy along with their middle or high schoolers. The Reduced Shakespeare Company has built a reputation on taking classics from the Western literary canon, summarizing them and turning their key points into a kind of literary comedy routine. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) covers several plays sure to appear on someone’s curriculum this year. 

Now, you don’t have to be well versed in any of the folios to enjoy this production, but you will walk away feeling like you’ve had a fond review of Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits. To get a feel for their “low-brow comedy meets high-brow literary style”, check out this clip of Romeo and Juliet.

If you think Western Civilization: The Complete Musical (Abridged) might be a better fit for your family, you can find all of their productions here.

*Note: searching for the RSC’s work on YouTube yields pretty rich results.

Shelf Portrait – Alanis Morissette

Alright, word nerds. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a conversation (or many) about the Alanis Morissette song “Ironic.” Remember, this is a safe space.

In 2020, the singer I will forever associate with my younger days put out an album, Such Pretty Forks in The Road, and not too long after that, videos (like the kind from MTV but now on The YouTubes) started coming out and only then did I see what real fame and fortune could get you: a home library rivaling the one in Beauty and the Beast. This is the music video of which I speak and here is Alanis talking about her incredible home library.

WARNING: The singer has mellowed out considerably but, I would also add, admirably. Here it must be said that sometimes getting old can be pretty cool.

The Universe in Verse (5 mins)

For an otherworldly experience, take a few minutes to rekindle your sense of awe with these interdisciplinary collages, pairing the finest minds in science with the finest minds in music and poetry. The Universe in Verse was started by Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings (now Marginalian) in 2017 as a pro-science way of celebrating reality alongside the traditional inquiries made by the humanities. 

Although formerly an in-person event, recent times have brought extensions of the evening online. Now everyone can delve into Richard Feynman’s observations accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma’s exquisite cello playing, layered atop quirky and charming visuals. This presentation urges viewers to forget the small things and remember the Big Picture that is continually unfolding.

Melissa Haas is the author and illustrator of Catula: The Misadventures of Dracula’s Cat and The Night Before Christmas (NOW WITH CATS), among others. Follow Catula’s whereabouts on Instagram @CatulaTheCat. If you’re interested in downloading free coloring pages or seeing Margaret Atwood with a blowtorch, check out more Leisure Learning related content at

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