Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's Better to Be Selective

So, we are midway through Dead Week here at the U.W. - so named due to the glazed-over eyes, lackluster pallor, and inability to respond to questions, unless in monosyllables, that students exhibit while in the crunch of studying for last-second grade pick-ups - and I'm feeling unproductive. I am tired of walking through the house, seeing people draped over desks in mental exhaustion, gradually accruing more and more mugs of tea that have already grown cold from waiting for so long, rubbing their tired eyes, pining for bedtime. Granted, this is usually at around 1 am, when my hours-long Pinterest spree has finally reached its half-hearted conclusion, but still. People are freaking, and I'm responding by doing... less than I should be. Hence, the unproductive spirit.

In a desperate attempt to do something of personal benefit, I decided to dig out my Kindle from its months-long exile and order a novel that was cute and fluffy, that I could use as a sweet escape from the bitter tang of a wasted day. This sort of craving usually entails a trip down the romance aisle of YA, but instead, I chose to check out a novel of which I had heard both praise and condemnation: The Selection, by Kiera Cass. Still a romance, but with the mass-market inflection of a dystopian future, the combination of which, the summary promised, was a mixture of "The Bachelor and The Hunger Games". Besides, that cover, I must admit, is pretty damn gorgeous. And if there's the word "princess" anywhere in the description, you can bet that I am going to be all over it. I was actually interested in the story, and excited to read this book. 

I was looking for an ego-boost, which is the typical result of reading YA for me, but I don't think there is anything in the world that is more demoralizing than consuming a novel you thought would be an actual source of entertainment, only to find it was simply another by-product of the radioactive waste pile that is current YA lit.  Simply a mutated mass of woefully misrepresented genres and glinting with the shards of deconstructed and overused plot structures, The Selection hardly strayed above a fifth grader's vocabulary, sloppily wandered through what was either a malformed or a deliberately ambiguous story line, and almost crumbled in several key places due to the sheer unreality the author was attempting to pass off as a convincing universe. I initially thought, even if it was bad, that I would be able to pass this off as a topic of conversation to my 13-year-old sister, but now, I don't think there could be anything in the world worse for her spunky spirit, than a heroine who masquerades as a fiery redhead, when in reality, there was hardly any spark in her attitude at all. 

America Singer - widely lambasted as the worst name to hit pop culture since "Renesmee"'s introduction in Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn - is as just as irritating and ineffectual a heroine as her name is an actual name. Proclaimed to be stubborn, feisty, and inspirational, America is only stupid, flat, and insipid. She bemoans the unjust and strictly enforced caste system in place in her desperately-wants-to-be-futuristic land of Illea, and in particular, the fact that this means she can't marry the prideful and ungrateful boy, Aspen, who she has loved (no, it's really "love," really, she repeats the word, for emphasis, almost once for every time this book gets a bad review on Goodreads) for two years (by the way, she's 17). Then she immediately writes off poor plain Prince Maxon as a snob and a bore because he's in a different caste as well. 

And did I mention that she MOCKS the idea of being a Princess? That she didn't want to be a part of the Selection at all? She only joined in because her constant mood-swing of a boyfriend broke up with her after she gave him the gift of food - which is the LAST THING IN THE WORLD a boy would ever do in response to a girl cooking him dinner, least of all when he is poor and starving - and because her mother bribed her to do it. Also, this dear prince we are supposed to immediately side with, is at times normal, at most other times a robotic being devoid of any capability besides getting irrational or being stiff, conversationally stilted, and essentially unfamiliar as anything resembling a teenage boy. America actually knees him in the groin at one point in the book, which I believe is a fairly natural response to anyone overusing the words "dear" and "shall" to his extent. 

Also, you can't compare something to the Hunger Games, and then have nobody die. That's just misrepresentation, faulty PR work on your part. 

And such incongruencies are not even the worst of it. Such a banal, ridiculous and contrived plot line there has never been before. I can't stand the characters, the vague and abstract threat that this "dystopian" future supposedly holds, and especially the fact that any of what's going on is supposed to inspire any sort of empathy or excitement. The reason I sped through this book in two hours alone probably owes less to my reading ability, and more to the inability of Cass to build the kingdom of Illea up as anything more than a cardboard castle, a forced, stereotypical love triangle, all with a flimsy support system of a lackluster heroine and the feeble, shopworn threat of death - whether it be at the hands of truly unbelievable laws or barbarian rebels that don't seem to cause much damage. 

At any rate, its been a while since I've found a novel that could inspire this much despondent head-shaking, mourning the fact that this sort of manufactured drivel is being spoon-fed into the underdeveloped minds of young, impressionable women. Like my sister. 

Who I am now going to be buying a VERY NICE book for Christmas.

So I guess  I at least did something productive for today. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Don't Eat the Camera Guy

When Twilight hit the New York Times best sellers list all the way back in 2005, it prefaced a major change for the small and cramped Teen shelves of bookstores everywhere. All of a sudden, Young Adult novels were a hot ticket to popularity and literary success (for the sellouts), by way of vampires, werewolves, witches, and monsters galore. The emergence of the Teen Paranormal Romance genre spelled a major boon for children's book companies, and a massive headache for uptight mothers, while many simply questioned the merit of books that essentially capitalized on being creepy.

However, in a decade that witnessed the Rise of the Geek on shows like Glee and Big Bang Theory, it was nice to know that the pseudo-Goths got their share of the locker room glory as well.

As more YA books of this species flew off the shelves, and it became more socially acceptable to proclaim that the lack of a pulse was considered a turn-on, vampires were thrust out of the darkness and into the limelight, and not to burst into clouds of dust as the vampire mythology purists had expected. The all-too-pale inhabitants of Forks, WA, made their on screen debut in November of 2008, and eventually racked up way more than 5 times their production budget, as well as assurance that their saga would continue for longer than had originally been envisioned, both on paper and on screen. However, even though it was only Edward that first sparkled his way into America's heart, the other "things that go bump in the night" were still causing a racket.

A small advertisement on Twitter first caught my eye about two weeks ago...

The City of Bones, the first novel in Cassandra Clare (aka, Judith Rumelt)'s The Mortal Instruments series, follows fifteen-year-old Clary Fray, a young girl with extraordinary power, and a very missing mother, as she discovers the true darkness hiding within the dangerous paranormal underbelly of New York City.

The book involves seemingly every monster in the closet, convoluting the mythology of demons, vampires, werewolves, faeries, and more by throwing whatever a "Shadowcaster" is into the mix. It was released by Simon & Schuster in 2007, and became a New York Times bestseller shortly after its debut.

However, despite all of the positive reviews I have heard about it - "Buffyesque"? Really? - The Cheerleader raves the loudest. Despite my personal feelings towards my sister's reading habits, maybe it deserves to be considered a little differently.

Premiere Date: August 23rd, 2013. 
Starring: Lily Collins as Clary, Jamie Campbell Bower as Jayce. 

That advertisement was followed a few days later, by a trailer - on the Cheerleader's Facebook page, no less - for this movie...

Warm Bodies, the debut novel of Isaac Marion, examines the topic of humanity and living life to the fullest, by way of a zombie named R. R -- who can't remember the rest of his name, just that it starts with an R -  falls in love with a human girl named Julie, and protects her, on her way home to a human encampment, from other zombies, as well as terrifying skeletal entities named "Bonies."

The novel was published in 2010, and gained endorsement from zombie lit lovers everywhere as quickly as it did a movie deal. Praised for its message as much as its plot, the comments for Warm Bodies on Goodreads are as quick to embrace the romance as much as shy away from the gore.

Besides, the actor playing R is currently dating Jennifer Lawrence, so if Katniss approves, you know he's got to be pretty cool.

Premiere Date: February 1st, 2013. 
Starring: Nicholas Hoult as R., Teresa Palmer as Julie. 

And finally, I was lured into this trap by a gorgeous still I found on Pinterest this morning...

Beautiful Creatures is the first novel in the Caster Chronicles, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It introduces the quiet Southern town of Gatlin, as well as its newest inhabitant, mysterious Lena Duchannes, her odd and powerful family, and a terrible curse, that threatens to destroy her relationship with Ethan, the boy who thought nothing important would ever happen in a town like Gatlin.

The book was released in 2009 from Little, Brown & Company, and several in the series followed shortly thereafter, gaining progressively impressive amounts of word-of-mouth at my younger sister's middle school.

And the people involved in this cast list are simply too amazing to be overlooked. I mean, Emmy Rossum? Come on!

Premiere Date: February 13th, 2013
Starring: The two lead actors, I've never heard of. But Emma Thompson is Mrs. Lincoln, Jeremy Irons is Macon Ravenwood, and Viola Davis is Amma, so I'm sure they're fine. 

My point is, now that our fang-toothed friend Edward is out of the way at the box offices with the end of the Twilight franchise, maybe it's time to get new perspective on the teen paranormal romance movie. That is, unless Stephanie Meyers changes the game again, with her teen alien romance, The Host (premiering March 29th, 2013; starring Saoirse Ronan as Melanie Stryder, and Diane Kruger as The Seeker). But let's just wait this literary trend out first.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Descending into (Tumblr) Madness

Happy Friday! 

Despite the fact that this weekend in itself is nothing to look forward to - as everyone in my chapter is consumed by the panic of the mid-terms blitzkrieg that is hurtling towards Monday like its our professors' life goal to give us all paper cuts - I've been having a pretty good day today.

It's because that after enduring the hell that was Winter Quarter Registration this morning at 5:30 am, I decided that I needed to relax. So, I took to trolling some of my favorite book-related Tumblr sites, and I thought that you just might enjoy them as well.

1. Life in Publishing - lifeinpublishing.tumblr.com
The snarky GIFs of a person who is obviously much more accomplished than I am, and whose job I want.

2. Why Authors are Crazy - grarrmfers.tumblr.com
Along the same vein as "Life in Publishing," but from the other side. Also, I still want this job, too.

3. John Green's Tumblr - fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com
Because as every teenage bookworm knows, there's nobody quite as special as John Green.

4. Bookfessions - bookfessions.tumblr.com
Now numbering over one thousand, bookfessions are, at times, a little narcissistic, preachy, or downright worrying. However, take #830: "When I go on a trip, it takes me but a few minutes to pack my clothes, but it takes me hours to decide which books to bring."

5. And while I'll always mourn the loss of Hot Guys Reading Books (hotguysreadingbooks.tumblr.com , self-explanatory), its still okay to scroll through the archives.

If you're guessing that this half-baked post means that I have yet to finish either my research paper or Anna Karenina, then you're right! Sorry 'bout it. But I was kind of hoping this would tide you over until at least Thanksgiving weekend, when I once again posses the mental faculties required for formulating a cohesive and insightful blog post.

Have a good weekend! :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

That's So Punk Rock

Yes, I know it's not Monday. But it's this week's Monday, which is what I really meant, of course. If it counts for anything, I've just finished a rather exhausting annotated bibliography for my English class, and yet I'm still taking the time to write this. Well, because I care.

Speaking of English class, I love it when the books you read for assignments actually overcome the enormous burdens of reading logs and papers on the topic of thematic elements, and overturn the conventional status that a book you read in school will forever carry the bitter tang of education. Novels that can outlast the arduous efforts of your teachers to pick apart every string and stitch that holds the bindings of the book together, and cement themselves as a still-standing, solid journey. I love those.

Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad - though but a recent national bestseller and winner of both the N. Y. Times Best Book, as well as a little honor called the Pulitzer Prize, in 2011 - was a favorite of our ENG 111 TA, and found its way onto our syllabus simply on the grounds that it would provide insight into more contemporary literature, instead of a dust-covered something-or-other from the 19th century. While I was initially a little put off by his disregard for the classical works that I so enjoyed, I quickly understood his viewpoint upon reading the first few chapters: the book itself has no regard for chronology, either.

Let me explain: Egan's novel is an ensemble piece, focusing on the lives of two broken and brilliant New Yorkers, Bennie and Sasha, as well as the people who make up key parts of their lives. However, instead of following a linear or chronological pattern when discussing the interlocking group, Egan threads their stories together across the boundaries of time, traversing months, days, years and decades, to explore exactly how this seemingly unrelated cast came together. It's as if the entire book is a love letter to those six degrees that separate us from Kevin Bacon. It reinforces each of those chain links between us, that we may take for granted, and reminds us that strangers - or employees and bosses, girlfriends and one night stands, husbands and brothers and especially terrible fathers - may end up mattering more to us than we think, and we may still matter more to them.

In other words, if there was ever a book to remind you that every person you pass on the street has a past, a story, a family, a best friend, and especially a future, it's this one.

If I haven't already expressed the utter amazement I felt in traveling through the interlocking webs within this novel, then let me make myself abundantly clear: I love, love, love this book. It's real... the people within it are recognizable. That makes it a little scary sometimes, especially when these characters that you relate to and find familiar, do something terrible. Everyone is broken is some way, and each of the characters within the novel demonstrate some of those habits and issues that plague us all. And yet, instead of dwelling in darkness for the full novel, the end notes that tinge each story are not simply defeat, but instead, hopefulness for the future, and, if you're lucky, even a happy ending or two.

And when you're stuck cramming for multiple mid terms, you take whatever hope you can find, whenever you can get it.

So, with attitude, realism, and a kick-ass punk feeling, Egan traverses generations, to craft the hope for a better tomorrow, by way of an ensemble cast you could meet on the street. Even a series of absolutely horrific essay prompts couldn't take that away. If only the book we were reading now - Jay Z's Decoded - wasn't so easy to kill. :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Veteran's Day Weekend!

I hope everyone out there has a great day today (I know I am), but just because I won't have a blog post prepared before Monday, I wanted to ensure you have a great Friday as well.

So please, enjoy this video: "B*tches in Bookshops (based on Jay Z and Kanye West's "N*ggas in Paris")," from the incredibly talented La Shea Delaney and Annabelle Quezada, who I am now considering following on Twitter (new follower alert: strange, unknown college kid from WA suddenly interested in your tweets because she liked a vid? Yeah, minor leaugue creepy... maybe not).

Anyways, everyone have a good weekend!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Stuck in the Doldrums

And just like that, this dismal weather has started to get me down.

What was once a novelty is now the norm, and it's quickly become more than a little dreary. Pretty soon, even the burnt orange and tarnished gold colors of the leaves will run together into a murky brown, and there won't be any color much of anywhere. If I've learned anything from my past inability to do my homework in the same place where I spend all of my time (well, not ALL of my time) on Pinterest, it's that environment determines attitude, and as the clouds droop ever lower in the sky, so do the corners of my mouth. I'm uninspired, uninterested, unmotivated... quite frankly, as I confessed to my father a week ago, I'm stuck in the doldrums.

He told me to go back and reread this: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.

He had read it to my sister, The Cheerleader, and I for the first time when we were just tiny. Henceforth afterwards classified as my favorite children's book EVER, and just currently finished with celebrating its 50th Anniversary, this tale follows the travels of a regular boy named Milo - who was none too motivated or inspired himself -through a mysterious tollbooth into a fantastical world full of witty puns, tremendous wordplay, and important lessons, in the hopes of rescuing the beautiful princesses, Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason. It was a hit when it was first published back in 1961, (and not so much a hit when it was made into a film about a decade later) and has gained comparisons to the likes of fantasy counterpart Alice in Wonderland, while proving itself to be just as durable, having been credited as the NPR Kid's Club Book Pick in 2011.

The most terrifying moment, for me, always happened within the first 30 pages: Milo, having breezed through the bright, colorful, cheery land of Expectations already, relaxes and lazes, simply enjoying the scenery, never knowing that he missed his turn, until his car sputters and stops in... the Doldrums. Home to the Lethargarians, a boring bunch whose only daily objectives are to relax and daze - as well as daydream, procrastinate, nap and sleep, and deem it illegal to smile or think - the Doldrums are inescapable to those who enter, as they fall into the ways of the Lethargarians as well. Thankfully, Milo is saved by Tock, the watchdog (my favorite character), who gives him the secret to restarting his car and escaping the Doldrums: to think. And so, Milo thought of "birds that swim and fish that fly," "yesterday's lunch and tomorrow's dinner," "words that began with J and numbers that end in 3," and "as he thought, the wheels began to turn."
As it turns out, The Phantom Tollbooth was my key to escaping the Doldrums as well.

A visit back to my childhood was exactly what I needed. Get caught up in day-to-day life, where the only objective is to get done with that which is required from you the most immediately, and strive for nothing exceeding expectations, is not the right way to live. I needed that harrowing trip back to the Mountains of Ignorance, and to regain the inner sight necessary to see those same demons who have been hounding me since senioritis kicked in back in the Spring: the Hopping Hindsight, who only moves forward based on what's behind him; the Gross Exaggeration, and his beastly buddy, the Know-It-All;  the long-nosed, green-eyed, curly-haired, wide-mouthed, thick-necked, broad-shouldered, round-bodied, short-armed, bowlegged, big-footed demon... of insincerity, who really isn't any of those things he says he is. Most frightening to me, was a flimsy creature, simply riding on the backs of others, and not really proving substantial in anything but his victims: the Threadbare Excuse, the same demon that's been riding on my shoulder since I contracted a minor sinus infection a couple of weeks ago.

The Phantom Tollbooth has ties to my childhood, and therefore, my heart, and was exactly the kind of intelligent and lightly moralizing thing I needed to get me going again. And speaking of going, it's time for English class again.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

On Edge

I beg your pardon for the unjust emptiness I'm sure you've all felt dwelling in the pits of your souls, during what I'm sure has been a very tumultuous time, in my extended absence from this blog. The lack of my constant wit - all but bedazzling and enlightening in an instant - and my well-crafted prose - cobbling the odds and ends of the Universe into a pure pantheon of distinguished ingenuity - must have felt a tremendous burden for these past few weeks. One might only hope, that my exceptionally crafted apologies must alleviate your deep misery, assuage the heart that has grown tender and raw after being subjected to the cruel, slicing pages of books not yet read and recounted by me, and renew the blushing joy you feel in accompaniment with the accelerating swells of your chest, when you see that yes, I have returned, and I have a new blog post.
Unless, of course, you didn't experience such pain? Unless the only pain you're feeling at the moment, is an abject embarrassment in regards to my use of such an obnoxiously effusive and flowery writing, and assumption of deeper emotional connections to trivialities, as is demonstrated above? 

If that's the case, then good. Move on from my temporary struggles in reading and writing, by eliminating the cause of such struggles from this very dialogue. I have finally finished W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge. 

The novel revolves around a group of friends hobnobbing around Chicago and Europe (and for one of them, India), and takes place, in total, over about forty years. It is one of the new genre that my friend Maggie and I, over a mutual bowl of pomegranate seeds, have dubbed, "the Marathon novel." It's the kind of novel where, upon turning the last page, you are able to salvage some semblances of accomplishment and self-pride, while still feeling numb and exhausted, murmuring to yourself "I can't believe I just did that." (Examples of the "Marathon": The Grapes of Wrath, The Fellowship of the Ring. ) "Marathon" novels typically gain their heftiness from heavy subject matter, nigh-indomitable writing style, and sheer bluntness of force, whether it's the emotional impact of content, or your head smacking against the table once you've fallen asleep. Such is The Razor's Edge. 

First off, the title itself refers to the path to salvation - religion itself being almost a tell-tales sign of a marathon novel - as one of the main characters forsakes all luxuries of life to pursue deeper meaning. Then, upon immediately immersing myself in murky wording, the likes of which I have previously displayed, I should have checked the second red flag. However, it is not until I fully reached the end, that I finally realized the extent to which this book has the capacity to bore someone into a headache.

Ironically enough, the contributing factors to my discontent with the plot line were what I initially appreciated about the novel itself: it's conversational nature and religious pseudo-monologues. 

When I say "conversational nature," I mean it. Not only does the book bank on conversational writing style, flowing in the way only a winding story from a friend can be told - frequently peppered with self-interruptions and mild-mannered observations about the narrator's surroundings - but it is built mainly of the conversations had, or recounted, by others. Initially it was a novel concept to me; however, after coming to the quick realization that no normal person talks like this, not even an well-culture Englishman from the '20s, and to be honest, I don't think anyone should. Ever. 

And when I say "religious pseudo-monologues," I mean it. I understand that the novel focuses primarily on the inner journeys and real travelings of a man seeking the meaning of life in the form of a question he doesn't fully understand, but come ON. It's one guy. And it's not the narrator. So do I really have to sit through ten pages of him borderline-soliloquizing about the nature of faith? (I'm saying "soliloquizing" here because I'm guessing that even after one minute of this guy spilling his heart out, everyone would have stopped paying attention, and it would be almost as if no one else was even there. He's rather self-infatuated for someone who strives to be selfless.) 

However, with that last semi-comment, I do find myself having to make a distinction: it wasn't the greatest book, in my estimation (obviously I'm disagreed with by most critics), but if there was any shadow of greatness within it, it shone forth in the expert crafting of the characters. Well-made, multi-faceted, realistic and all-at-once sympathetic and worthy of hate, I loved how each of the players that walked this stage could have just as easily walked down the street. Maybe it did owe a little something to the conversational presentation, but this book could have easily been a gossip-fest rather than a sermon if fit into a different format. Not an archetype was present, not a stock character in sight. I loved every last detail that went into the ultimate ruin of an almost-martyr and the self-made salvation of a snob. These people were grand, even if the plot was not such, and the styling was too much so. 

Anyways, those are my feelings on a book that has been sitting on my desk, accompanied by class readings and Scantrons, for the past two weeks. How about this time, I pick something a little lighter... :) 




Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shadows and Rain

As I am currently living in Seattle, you cannot imagine my immense gratitude and relief when it finally started to rain two days ago.

The city has been clouded over with the distinct lack of clouds since school has started. The unnatural sunshine and prolonged summer temperatures have been keeping me awake at night in an unseasonably warm sweat. Each time I dropped another ice cube in my tea, another little part of my soul flaked off, like the dry skin that came with the unwelcome heat, the heat that kept me in tee shirts, instead of in my prized, oft-worn sweaters. The brightness blinded me to all books - school-related or otherwise - and I was suspended in time, just like my favorite season, who was still anxiously waiting for its leaves to change, and its carved pumpkins to appear on doorsteps. Now that the weather has finally caught up with the calendar, I am released from the stupor of the clashing seasons, and I can actually focus.

To a point. It may be argued that what emerged from the new-found morning fog was a misdirected focus; instead of an actual attentiveness to the tasks at hand (namely, managing to pay attention to Appreciation of Architecture lectures...), instead of applying myself to the textbook and keyboard, as I should have... I was desperate for more gloom. Suffering under this odd ailment - desiring the murky and cold, and despairing of all that was clear and warm - I turned to the book that mentioned both darkness and seasonal weather changes in its title (it's allure only magnified by the fact that Stephen King's quote was on the cover): The Shadow of the Wind: A Novel, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Largely taking place in the heavily political post-war decade of 1945 to 1955 in Barcelona, Spain, the story follows the trial and travails of the love life of young Daniel Sempere, a teen trying to avoid the pitfalls of friendships and relationships, while keeping hidden the secret he has sworn to protect: a mysterious book, the Shadow of the Wind, of which only one manuscript exists. The rest - as well as the rest of the collective works of it's secretive author, Julian Carax - have been meticulously burned, by a man scarred by fire, operating under the name of one of Carax's villians, representative of the devil. What follows is a tangled web of many characters, their lies, and the timelines in which they operate, and the great question, of whether they can unravel the mystery before their time runs out.

I'm not entirely familiar with any European literature - especially recent literature - that doesn't come from England. I'm used to the Gothic, and the Romantic, and everything that has to do with the prude and privileged ladies of Austen and the Brontes. I was unprepared for this book - which was a bestseller in Spain and France, among other places, before being translated into English - and its... well... differing sensibilities. What I'm talking about are lines like these:

"You're a dish fit for a pope, Rocito. This egregious ass of yours is the Revelation According to Botticelli." 

You see what I mean? Not to say that this line didn't leave me laughing uproariously... it's just that the book displays an abundance of that sort of mindset. And if anyone has heard me complain about the Game of Thrones before, it's like this: I just have a minor problem with major intrigue being upstaged by the inability to keep certain things to yourself. But that's just my point of view.

The rest was great, though. Instead of existing on some limited scope and scale, it existed - to me - in some supernatural soap opera, populated with nefarious characters of dubious origins, liars and double crossers, those who looked like angels and those who acted like angels, those whose religious piety concealed a broken soul. The grandiose nature of the entire novel, the infinite supply of source material, was interesting, as most of what I've been reading recently seems kind of limiting in comparison. The strange, almost postmodernist view of the politics at the time, especially in reference to the corruption in government, which is a hefty topic in itself, took a backseat, when it came to the paranormal and the mystical. The result was a hodgepodge of the religious and the secular, the magical and the evil and the real. This novel contained a lot of varying elements, all moving and acting of their own accord, with their own connotations and purpose.

The problem is that the result of that grew a little too hectic. Towards the ending, I got the vague impression of sending sand through a sieve - throwing a million little particles your way a mile a minute - in the hopes that something is going to fill all the holes. Simply by reading it, I was finding suspense not only in the story itself, but as an outsider thinking, "come on, it's been a great one so far, don't let it all fly out of hand now...don't stuff the ending so full of surprises you'll blow your own story to bits." Thankfully, the acceleration finally stopped, and the story came together at the end. Unfortunately, in a double blow to my heart, it was a predictable outcome. So I had endured such stress at the hands of frenetic plot movement, then frustration through the stagnation as the exact same ending I had predicted came to fruition?

Believe it or not, the masterful imagery and inventive storytelling made it all worth it, and I'm not joking. Normally I'm a stickler about the "moral values" and "plot consistency and regularity" things, but this one was probably the exception. The length was pretty fantastic, too, as it was small enough for me to finish within the span of a week, and yet, it was long enough to let me get familiar with the texture of its binding and the font on its pages. A large-portioned meal, but a tasty one. Maybe I'm just feel so much gratitude for the man who mentally sent me to Barcelona for the past week, but it was a nicely worded vacation, and I appreciated the gloom.

Now, back to my rain. :)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ice Cubes Melt

Pardon me for the lack of updates in the past more-than month or so. Unfortunately, I've been busy making the most of my freshman and sorority experience, which requires copious amounts of laughing, hugging, chocolate-chip-cookie-consuming, belly-dancing, spandex-skirt-shopping, and all around fun (as well as trace amounts of other substances, like sequins, headbands, and crying). So, my work on this blog has been neglected. Now that I'm reasonably settled into my roles as class-goer, homework-doer, weekend-dancer, and new Sigma Kappa (one heart, one way!) member, I actually found the time to crack open a book I did NOT buy bound in cellophane from the basement of the University Bookstore, and relax. Between late-night runs to the kitchen for more apple cinnamon caffeine-free herbal tea, of course.

Now that I've got you all settled into the notion that my life has become some fairy-tale-worthy amalgamation of a Spice Girls music video and a tampon commercial, prepare for the pain, because this book packs a certain emotional "one-two" that left me reeling. Maybe it's because I'm a born-and-bred American living in a new century, one who grew up almost without the concept of skin color as a friendship barrier, or maybe it was the fact that this novel is set majorly within the very limits of the city I now call home. Whatever it was that left me sprawled across the study room couch, fighting back tears, it's not fading terribly fast. Not when I remember having walked across some of the very pavement on which such atrocities were committed.

I knew about the evacuation from the West Coast, and the Japanese internment camps during WWII, because our teachers glossed over what bare bits of it we discussed about our WA state history, all the way back to the first grade. When you stand by the bridge near the Japanese Pagoda at Point Defiance at night, so I was told in whispers, behind the wooden shed on our Montessori-school playground, you can hear the quick patter of ghostly footsteps, of those fleeing, those who didn't want to be taken away. They were shot, and now, they'll be forever running. Grave and sinister, for someone so young, but we did what we could to understand that which we couldn't understand, subjecting it simply to the stuff of ghost stories, and moving on (completely dismissing the fact that the Park, and the Pagoda, are definitely closed to the public at night). I grew up side-by-side with those kids, whose parents spoke a different language, liked different foods, dressed a different way, or prayed to a different God, and it was never a problem. We weren't bred to war, so we simply couldn't comprehend. These weren't things we were taught in Molly's American Girl series. It wasn't until public school that I realized just how cruel people could be, and why no one in Tacoma ever wanted to talk about it.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford (Ballantine Books, 2009), is set halfway in the 1940s, when those unjust sanctions against Japanese Americans were enforced, and halfway in the 1980s, when the repercussions of those actions are still being felt, by Mr. Henry Lee, a recent widower with a tenuous relationship with his grad-school son, and leftover memories of a girl named Keiko Okabe. Throughout the novel, the threads unwind to find that Lee had deeper ties to her than his son ever knew, and his son comes to realize that his father was less like his father than he had previously thought. It's a beautiful and moving love story, set across the backdrop of two different timelines, where two different people can find an imperfect love in their own hostile nation, and still feel the effects of that love after all the smoke has cleared.

An imperfect novel as well, as the presence of some anachronisms within the story pointed out. But I'll let 'em slide (still less cringe-worthy writing than my Architecture textbook. Yikes).

Whatever the case, the true takeaway from this novel, for me, was the fact that I was already so familiar with the setting. I've been to the Puyallup Fairgrounds, I've seen where they keep the livestock. Imagining a family of four, trying to live within the bounds of one horse stall? Not pleasant, not easy. Now take this description:

"...the quaint town of Puyallup, a small farming community surrounded by lush acres of daffodils." (Pg 153).

Holy hell. I'm a Daffodil Princess. Our HQ is in Puyallup. We're the Daffodil Princesses BECAUSE of that agriculture in the Puyallup Valley. This is all within a half hour of my house! Oh my gosh! (Describing my train of thought, here.) How horrifying is that? All of this kind of thing occurred within 50 miles (and about 60 years) of my doorstep! Not to mention Seattle... the entire reason my mom had me read this novel is because I'm now LIVING in Seattle as a student! She wants to have a field trip day with me, to go explore some of the real-life inspiration down in the international district, the streets named IN THIS BOOK.

How sad.

I'm not sure what it would be like for those who DON'T live in this city I've grown to care so much about since the advent of higher learning, but for me, it really struck home. Literally. My appreciation for the history of where I came from, and where I am now, is ever-increasing. I love it when a novel can involve you so deeply, that you feel the need to do extra background work afterwards, almost like you don't want the story to end, so you need to find out more of its beginning. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more locally-set works now, and my interest in the racism of WWII isn't dying down either. Sure, awful, truly-terrible, no-good things happened here, in Seattle, but bad things happen everywhere. I'm still just learning to appreciate the past, and how it relates to where I am now. And this novel definitely helped.



Note: Look out for my favorite character, the son, and the quote of his from which this post title was taken. It's been ringing in my head since finishing the novel, and I don't know why. :) 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

In the Beginning

I was raised by a man with a healthy and enthusiastic regard for the super.

Under his guidance, Spiderman was the first PG-13 movie that ever became my favorite, and the first hero I ever fell in love with. As a kid, he had connected to Peter Parker's less-than-cushy upbringing, and the idea that power can come without want or warning, and yet, should still be wielded with the utmost care and wisdom. In Peter's story, the iconic radioactive spider - by which he was bitten, and transformed into the superstar web-slinger overnight - serves as a demarcation between the nerdy, bullied high-schooler, and the wisecracking, wall-climbing wonder kid. There wouldn't be a Spiderman at all, if it weren't for one tiny bite, from one tiny spider.

For Batman, it was the bats, the murder of his parents, and his nearly-unlimited bank account, that assisted in the creation of his superhero status. For Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze), it was the attempt to save someone he cared about, by means of an all-too-costly deal, that formed the basis for his flaming counterpart. And Superman's an alien, for crying out loud.

I realize that this intro, when paired with the above photo, may cause a little confusion. However, the point I'm driving at is this one: there's a reason why those superheroes are all so amazing. It's the same reason why Cinderella made such a great princess, and why Genesis is one of the most-quoted chapters of the Bible. It's that nothing beats a great origin story.

And like those superheroes of legend which we were just discussing, the books discussed in Celia Blue Johnson's Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway: Stories of the Inspiration Behind Great Works of Literature, have achieved a iconic status in their own field.

In this carefully-curated collection, of some of the most compelling geneses of the world's most beloved stories, you can find the likes of Cervantes' Don Quixote sharing space with Capote's Holly Golightly (from Breakfast at Tiffany's), and Tolkien's hobbits pages away from Lewis' Susan, Edmund, Peter and Lucy. Here, Johnson relates the flashes of lightning, or the slow-smoldering embers, that sparked the creative flame of some of the world's best storytellers, leading them to craft such places, people, and things, that could capture the hearts of people around the globe.

For some, like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it was a game: her monster was born form the idea of horror itself, his bits and pieces belonging to an overheard conversation on the topic of the reanimation of bodies. For others, like Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, the steps of the cerebral sleuth had been tread by another, as the masterful detective was based off of - at least partially - a one time medical professor of Doyle's. For C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, the inspiration came at the age of sixteen; the final product, at forty. For Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, he knew the geography and topography of the tropical island before he even began to think of its inhabitants.

The book itself is clear and well-written, which allows the magic of the stories BEHIND the stories to really shine through. When dealing with a lot of layers, its sometimes best to just stick to what's most easily understandable, and for this collection of brief anecdotes, the simple presentation allows for full comprehension of the information it relates. Which is helpful, and interesting.

And, seeing as though it is a book about what inspired books, I'm glad to hear about Johnson's own origin story: after a repeat re-read of Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, she was intrigued by the underlying history, and this interest led to a veritable scavenger hunt through literature, to find out how some of her favorite books came to be. It shows to me, that the enjoyment of reading is improved immensely, when you get to know it a little better. :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Many Adventures

When flipping through the last few pages of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, yesterday afternoon, and preparing to gather my thoughts for this blog post, I had to stop, and laugh for a moment. This book - this precious bundle of pages - is my favorite novel, of all time. Most people who learn this information are a little surprised, expecting something a little more... I don't know... romantic? British? More stereotypically fitting of the "classic" title? No. This book is my most beloved.

And I was laughing because I realized, that the first time I had ever read this book, was exactly a decade ago.

That's right. This little precocious reader first became acquainted with young Tom Sawyer at the age of eight, after having received his book as part of a Scholastic Book Orders (remember those?) bundle the year previously (it's companions being 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I have actually yet to read, and My Side of the Mountain, which I hold in the utmost esteem). Upon my first reading - over a cumulative week of quiet-learning periods at our Montessori summer school - I found myself unfamiliar with about half of the words inside of it... and yet, still safe and snug in the flow of the story. Despite having only just graduated the 2nd grade, I not only followed, but rejoiced in, Tom's escapades, and wound my way through all of St. Petersburg, Missouri, with him, Huck, Joe, and Becky, while my classmates sat coloring, doing math pages, or practicing for spelling tests.

Little did they know what sort of trouble I was up to. Safe inside the pages, I was far from quiet. I was fighting in the forests and in the streets, filling the cat up with painkiller, creeping into graveyards in the dead of night, paying witness to murder, lying, plotting and scheming, running away from home to become a pirate, getting trapped inside a labyrinthine cave, from which I might not ever escape... and none of my desk neighbors would ever know the difference, unless an unchecked laugh made its way through the silence of the class. And so, the daughter of a Sunday School teacher - who was not even allowed to walk through the grocery store alone - found herself a world filled with possibilities, opportunities for behaving badly, and no one could stop her.

I've read this book every summer since. My vocabulary and comprehension have grown, as is to be expected, and my tastes in literature have varied as well, and yet, to me, this book always remains the same.

This book has stuck with me throughout three different elementary schools, middle school, and high school, and has traveled with me to campgrounds, slumber parties, Sun River, and even church camps, over the course of the past ten years. I have read it EVERY SUMMER, without fail, and even a bunch of times interspersed throughout the years as well. Every crack in its spine, ridge in its covers, stain or rip on its pages, marks another trip inside the wonderful mind of Mark Twain, and another encounter with the mischievous champion of childhood, Tom Sawyer. I. Love. This. Book.

And yet, it made me cry yesterday - no, seriously cry - after I was done laughing. I realized that yes, this is a book I've been reading for the past ten summers, since I was eight... but that means, I'm eighteen. I'm going to college in less than a month. I'm growing up, shipping off, moving out... saying goodbye. I'm far passed the age for digging for buried treasure, or believing in witches. I'm trying hard to become an adult now, there's no time for dwelling in the adventures of years past. I've got to be a big girl, no more kidding around. But... does this mean, I've outgrown Tom? Is a book I've spent a decade loving now simply something I have to leave behind?

It was a major Toy Story 3 moment. Looking down at the bent cover, the well-studied artwork, and dented and creased spine, I contemplated my future, trying hard to ignore my past.

Then, with a flick of the pages, I couldn't ignore it anymore, when the crackling, yellowed paper issued the scent of freshly cut grass, reminding me of reading the book on our back patio in the summer sun, while my dad mowed the lawn. Then came the scent of hot sand, when I took Tom along to Long Beach. The scent of strawberries, when the cousins came over for a Fourth of July party and we had strawberry shortcake, and I accidentally spilled a little on a page of my book. I smelled bug spray, and sun lotion, and chlorine from a pool. I smelled the peanut butter sandwiches my mom packed for me the entirety of the 1st grade, and the mix of perfumes from the Stadium girl's locker room. This book has been with me everywhere. If it has already stuck along for the ride this far in my life... why should I give it up now?

So I decided Tom and I were in for another ten years, at least. I can't think of another book that has impacted me in such a way as this novel has. This post isn't a review, and it's not a recommendation either. It's an overly-long post, filled with effusive praise and fond memories, made while reading my favorite book in the entire world.

Thank you Mark Twain, and Tom Sawyer. Happy Tenth Anniversary.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bump in the Night

I'm here, in one of the most beautiful places found across the entirety of Earth (according to me, at least), with the sun shining brightly, and the day passing as lazily as only the greatest of vacation days can. However, in a vacation home I've come to know almost as well as my own house, and surrounded by my very happy -and finally relaxed - family, you could swear that the world had grown a little colder. Maybe the sunshine shifted a little, causing the warmth to turn into a glinting shine that blinded your eyes, just for a moment. Maybe - once again, just for a moment - the breeze shifted, and you would have sworn that the rustling of the pines was, instead, the quiet hissing whispers of some unseen observers.

Maybe a curious girl - terrified into nightmares at the age of three by Ernest Scared Stupid, the same girl who went on "The Haunted Mansion" for the first time at the age of four, and the second, at fourteen - has decided to take a peek at one of her father's favorite Stephen King's collections, Night Shift. I'd thought that I'd grown out of my past poultry-flavored tendencies, and could successfully sleep through the night without fears of being attacked by vicious, spade-clawed Boogeymen, or sneaking, sloppy zombies. The only time I've become afraid of breaking that insomnia-free streak, was in reading this collection of short stories, from the master of horror himself.

This grouping of some of King's most famous short stories was published in 1978, with the majority of the stories first having been ran in publications as varied as Penthouse and Cosmopolitan, to Cavalier (who,  in running nine of them, was the real heavyweight). While the book itself was dug out of the dust cluttering some of my Dad's old college gear, the tales held within have lost little of their original appeal... or terror. With well known stories like "Jerusalem's Lot," "The Ledge," and "Quitters, Inc." as well as lesser known, but nonetheless thrilling tales, like "I Am the Doorway," "Gray Matter," and "I Know What You Need," this collection of all the aspects of horror, fantasy, suspense, and even sci-fi, found in King's best works are put on display, at their very most chilling.

While anyone who knows me would readily attest that I usually choose to abstain from partaking in the very scariest of movies, television shows, etc., I was never solely afraid of them. As a kid, I really did enjoy books from R. L. Stine's Goosebumps franchise, and I watched Are You Afraid of the Dark? so often, that even now, so many years later, I can recount some of my favorite episodes. The problem was, my imagination was just never great at delineating where fiction met fact, and no matter how I loved shivering to the tune of a haunted castle or a possessed doll during the daytime, I could never seem to sleep at night without both legs firmly tucked inside the covers (later, an encounter with Bram Stoker's Dracula, from the local library, led to a still-ongoing nightly necessity, of locking all windows and closing the blinds. But that was Dracula).

Regardless, reading King's stories led me back to those good ol' days, back when there were some Nancy Drew novels that still scared me. The horror - the kind that draws you in and makes you wait in dreadful anticipation, fully absorbed in the terrifying monster before you, unable to recognize any others that may be sneaking around the corner to catch you from behind - felt good to meet again. It keeps you on your toes.

(The best part is, age -and further fantastical reading - has given me a weapon: where I once quaked beneath covers at the slightest bump in the night, I find I am now able to OUT-THINK any demons my own mind may invent. I can use reality to my advantage, and prove my own monsters to be false, thereby slaying them with a sword crafted from the foundation of their existence. And poof! No more nightmares.)

 Besides, there are plenty of other things to better be afraid of... for instance, in this climate, a repeat of the red-hot sunburn of late July. Now that's scary to think about. :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Stuck in Airplane Mode

After a long, difficult, busy summer, with everyone in the family working on their various projects and running to the frenetic beats of their own various drummers, we've finally been able to take a good, long vacation.

Last week, it was a glorious six days in my favorite climate and location in the entire world: Disneyland, California. I'll move there someday. Hopefully, at some point in my life, I get to work for Disney. Anyone who knows how much I love anything related to Disney knows exactly how little I'm kidding when I say that. Anyways, we all supremely enjoyed ourselves in the Happiest Place on Earth, and then returned home.

The day after we left Cali, we arrived in Sun River, Oregon, and this almost-as-equally-blissful venue is where you may currently find us: soaking up the remnants of the summer sun, reading in the hammock, lounging by the pool, etc. The rustic-yet-chic attitude of the entire resort is incredibly appealing, and I can sincerely say that I'd love to retire here, simply because of the relaxed, lazy, and enjoyable surroundings.

In other words, this brief blog post is all about making excuses: I've been working diligently all summer, and I simply haven't had time to update because I've been too busy enjoying myself. Sorry.

However, that is not to say that I won't be posting soon: my own father was horrified by the six books I packed in my "fun" bag (and little did he know that I packed an additional six in my luggage), so I'll find something to talk about soon enough. 

And it's not like I haven't been working at least a little bit. I just spent the last three hours writing a 2,125 word children's book. And I'm proud of the way I spent my time, because I don't get as much time to write anymore, and I love how the story turned out. So, myeeehh, haters.

Anyways, you can tell even in my short explanation here that I'm exhausted. And vacations are all about renewal, so... I'll blog post next when my brain cells are fully regenerated, and I'm focusing on more than simply when I get to eat next. I'll see you when the sun of my head finally rises off of the couch cushions, giving dawn to another bright idea. Or, whatever. See you soon.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Three Sisters

Have you ever been almost afraid of a book? I'm not talking about horror... though God knows that I haven't slept with my windows open since reading Bram Stoker's Dracula in the sixth grade (not joking here). I'm talking about the kind of books that describe life in such a brutally honest and relatable way, that you wonder whether their author has been snooping through your diary.

The first instance of this came when I was assigned Annie Dillard's An American Childhood for a summer reading assignment, for our Junior AP English class (I talk about it here.) I intensely identified with her funny, embarrassing, and often poignant anecdotes, about growing up, then moving on, and I've read the book several times in the short, busy years since. The nostalgic, regretful, and yet altogether celebratory nature of her writing helped me get through a very transitive part of my life: her words helped me get past the devastating realization that I wasn't a kid anymore - that I'd soon be saying goodbye to the people, places, and things that formed my first eighteen years - but that those memories would stand by me forever, and the very ideas that helped grow my spirit as a child, would continue to push me towards the sun as an adult. I continue to be very cautious about what sort of people to whom I recommend this book, simply because I feel such a strong connection to it, that in handing it out to just anyone,  I would be revealing very personal emotions, that I feel, in the form of someone else's words. (If that makes any sense to anyone other than me.) The Cheerleader is reading it right now, for a summer assignment, and to be perfectly honest, I'll probably read it once more, before I'm off to Seattle.

Anyways, when searching through the large stack of books my mother lent me at the beginning of the summer, I came across The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown. Usually, my mom and I share a good, healthy admiration and regard for the best of the best (usually American) classics... but this stack is different. I've already voiced some of my apprehensions about this group of novels - handpicked by Mom - and what sort of literature it seems she's recently gone after: the goopy, emotional stuff, grown saccharine sweet and almost over-ripe while resting at the tops of the New York Times lists. Most of them are well-written, though. I guess I'm just trying to tread the line between the World Lit and Teen sections of the local library, without wandering into the hazardous Contemporary Women's Fiction stuck in the middle. It's just skewed towards an older audience than me, and it makes me uncomfortable. Besides, all of these women have problems, and as a soon-to-be college freshman, I'm terrified of the future enough already!

The principle that appealed to me about The Weird Sisters, however, was that the story really was about - and the narrative was really shared between - three sisters, much like those in my family. I (#1 of 3) actually read out the characteristics of the three to the Cheerleader (#2 of 3), and she laughed aloud: the nervous, bossy, borderline-Obsessive-Compulsive eldest; the flirty, fashionable, and essentially self-destructive second; and the flighty, irresponsible, yet still-beloved baby sister. If the title of the novel had ended with (And One Weird Kid Brother), I would have accused Brown of peeping in windows. This is where that whole terrifying-honesty-and-truthful-description-of-life-thing comes into play.

The novel is about, you guessed it, three very different sisters, coming home, and together, to assist their ailing mother in her fight against breast cancer, while attempting to both get their lives on track, and clean up each others' messes as well. The differences between us and them are many (we, for instance, are nowhere near the median age of 30, nor are we likely to allow each other to monumentally mess up our lives as badly as these three have managed); however, hidden between the lines are moving messages on the nature of relationships, especially those with our sisters, that I really identified with. And, of course, the eldest sister was someone I really did pay attention to, as the brief, aforementioned generalization of her character totally applies to me as well, and I could see how someone like me could possibly grow up to be someone like her.

The difference is, I won't. And my sisters and I actually like each other. And there's no way we'd let each other stray so far from the values we were raised on as the incredibly misguided women in this book. However, letting those alone, I felt that The Weird Sisters was a vivid portrait of a flawed, yet functional, family, who come to understand the strengths of their relationships in a realistic way. The real treat for me, is that the occupation of the father -a specialist on the Bard - has impacted the women of the story so much, that they randomly spout his words, and quotes from all of Shakespeare's works are peppered throughout the dialogue.That being said, this book was not my style, and certainly not geared towards an eighteen year old, so my mom is bound to enjoy it more than I did.

The difference is, she grew up with ONLY sisters, and no smelly brother to even it all out. :)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Egyptian Beach Party

Desperately seeking a change of pace and the feeling of sand between our toes, the family recently fled to the sunny shores of Seaside, Oregon. However, once the weather turned aggressively, oppressively hot on what would be our second day on the beach, I opted to hang back at the condo and nurse my angry, red, sunburned skin, instead of lugging the volleyball out to fry another day. After trying fruitlessly for over an hour to understand the complex code of button-pushing that would operate our rental condo's DVD player, I tossed aside Disney's Tangled, and dug out a book.

However, my beach reads are not equal to everyone else's beach reads.

Instead of installing myself out on the condo patio with a good slathering of aloe and some bit of marshmallow fluff unstuck from the Teen shelves of our semi-local Barnes and Noble, I chose instead to turn to the tops of recent nonfiction lists for a bit of educated reading (the aloe, unfortunately, had been left at home, so none of that either). Most of the selections were a bit of a downer, or too funny for serious reading - and I'm still patiently waiting for my Mom's edition of Rebecca Sloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to be returned, so I can, in turn, sneak it out from her stacks - so I narrowed my search down to a historical biography (one of my Top 5 fave genres). Fate had previously sent Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life onto the well-stocked shelves of Target, then into my already over-laden shopping cart back in April, and now, it pushed the hefty Pulitzer-winner into my beach bag as well.

The crowded resort town of Seaside could just as easily have been the bustling ancient city of Alexandria. The crystal blue waters in front of me could have lapped the banks of the river Nile. And that heat definitely could have qualified as borderline Saharan. So, I slid on my sunnies, laid back, and made like the most enduringly enchanting ancient historical female of all time (minus being fanned by palm fronds, unfortunately).

The legacy of Cleopatra is lasting, despite the many inconsistencies in the documentation of her history, and the varied portrayals of the ancient monarch's character.  Whether your opinion of her, is that of an educated and strategic thinker, or some kind of hieroglyphics-writing hussy, or even simply as a pop culture fixture, made icon by the likes of the Egyptian craze of the 1920s or Elizabeth Taylor, then you could definitely do for a read of Schiff's complete and detailed history of the long-gone, never-forgotten pharaoh queen. The format is easy to follow, chapter lengths are just the right size, and the heft of the book itself is not at all daunting. Chock-full of information, yet enrapturing and downright beautiful to read, rightly crowned by the New York Times as a "Best Book of the Year" in 2010, Cleopatra: A Life strips away all of the mythology set in place by the likes of Shakespeare and Shaw, and leaves us with a relatable, remarkable woman, who could really rule, despite the odds stacked against her. Her dealings with the encroaching cultures to the West, or the bad behavior of her ambitious, murderous family, make any of your problems seem downright trivial, and the passion with which she lead her country is inspiring, thereby cementing Cleopatra in the public conscious as an intrepid, educated strategist, and a moving example of a female leader.

Whether or not your typical beach reads consist of quite as much substance as this one, I would firmly recommend checking Cleopatra: A Life out, in order to explore the dramatic, beyond-mythical story of the brave Egyptian queen... or just to impress any cute towel-dwelling bookworms nearby. :)


(Oh, and if you're wondering about the title... it was stolen from one of my favorite episodes of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius :) Look it up, kids).


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Up All Night

Hello, my name is Savannah, and I was once a Paranormal Teen Lit addict.

I gleefully read the entirety of Meg Cabot's Mediator series - about a girl who can talk to ghosts - in the summer before 6th grade, and R.L. Stine's (yes, the Goosebumps guy) duet of books, Dangerous Girls and the Taste of Night, served as my introduction into the world of teenage vampires. I read about werewolves in Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, and all other sorts of beasties, borrowed from the oft-tread Teen section of my local library. Yes, I will even admit it: I borrowed Stephenie Meyer's Twilight from a friend, and in enjoying it so much, immediately bought the next two over-priced books in the series - New Moon and Eclipse -  from the school book fair. This was a much simpler time, back in middle school, when you could  still be considered that-weird-girl-with-the-vampire-books, but not care, because you were too busy reading about dark forests, dangerous kisses, and a fight to the death. Back when Twilight's sheer size and subject matter still turned most normal young teenage girls off of reading it, we few slumped in the back of the science classroom happily, with our overly-criticized, much-loved teenage fare.

Then everything changed, when the Hollywood studios' mass-production machine attacked.

Suddenly, Twilight was being made into a movie, with hot young actors and blockbuster headlines. We original children of the dark recoiled in horror, as bubble gum pink talons reached for our beloved books and crowed, "Oh, I love Edward!" (or Jacob. Like it really mattered). It was impossible. No one whose hair smelled like strawberries could possibly love these dark, romantic tales like we did. And yet, that same Teen section of the library was flooded by teenage girls, and ransacked of all the novels that I loved most.

Then, the shelves began filling up again, with new novels, and more handsome vampires. Paranormal teen romance was the number-one genre on the market, TV shows and movies starring things that went bump in the night started popping up in every major studio and network, and, all of a sudden... it was cool to be a batgirl. The hype hit what I thought was critical mass, and then kept growing and growing, until it seemed that there wasn't enough breathing space for us originals anymore. So, I sighed, and abandoned that genre that I loved, for the romance of the British classics, and the supernatural horrors of Shelley, Stoker, and King, vowing never to read a book that combined the two genres again. Until now.

As it is, so many years later, paranormal teen lit is still a major selling point, and I've grown to be okay with that. Still, in a genre that has become so over-populated, it isn't easy to determine which are actually well-written, and which have been mindlessly churned out by a career stock writer on a tight deadline. Therefore, if one of these books does grow to become a much-celebrated #1 national bestseller, I'm willing to give it a chance. And that's how the Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, ended up in my to-read pile.

The story, about two conflicting schools of magic at war, fought out by skilled manipulators whose hearts are connected by more than simply the challenge, features all of the best parts of those books I read in middle school, with nary a vamp in sight. However, the mystical, paranormal romance never manages to feel overdone, or like a repetition of something I've seen before. Even the calling card of the genre - the colors black, white, and red - take on an entirely new tint when represented in this novel. Sure, there were some sections I found a little boring or bumpy, and the chronology of the book (the effect of which was revealed to be quite clever, eventually) was pretty irritating when you were trying to really get into the story, but for the most part, the idea that I was the most impressed with, was that there was actually an interesting, emotionally-involving, dark and twisted romance left in this genre, the echos of which I haven't seen anywhere already.

I'm not calling the Night Circus the rebirth of my love of paranormal teen romance, by any means. And I still find all those teenage fangirls obnoxious. By I really must accredit Morgenstern with accomplishing a major feat: which is, to revitalize an entire genre, by finding new ideas and ways of thinking - by creating a clever format, an amazing cast, and enchantingly, whimsically, dark venue - to craft a compelling story, the remarkable nature of which is not often present on those kinds of bookshelves.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Old School

There exists such a thing - at least, among my group of friends - known as "The Austen Rule": being that the first time you read any given book by Jane Austen, you will absolutely despise it, and it will be a hard slog from start to finish, and at any point in the story you will be sorely tempted to quit it, but if you make it through the first time, upon the second reading, you will find it to be smart, humorous, insightful, and highly entertaining. This Rule is the reason why it took me eight tries to finally finish Emma, and why a decent percentage of those who read Pride and Prejudice this past year for their English classes may not have enjoyed it the way us multi-time Darcy-lovers did.

It is also the reason why my decision to read Northanger Abbey in the middle of the summer may have seemed highly ludicrous.

Summer is the time of reading as many good books as possible, stocking up in preparation for the dry and barren mental material coming with school in the fall. Summer is not the time to read, and reread. Summer is the time for beach reads, road trip silence-fillers, stuff that might cause concern if seen poking out of your messenger bag, but looks perfectly appropriate when read while swinging in a hammock or lounging by the pool. Besides, Summer is for American History and Novels. Save the BritLit, with its Gothics, for the gloomy, foggy Winter.

So why in the world would I actually CHOOSE to read Northanger Abbey, when it is perfectly good weather for jumping on some paranormal teen lit bandwagon? The above video is the guilty culprit.

"Jane Austen is my Homegirl," by the comedic troupe known as Pretty Darn Funny,  is a rap in celebration and honor of those BBC and PBS miniseries I just can't ever get enough of, name-checking the Brontes, Jane Austen, and especially Downton Abbey. Like an Austen book, I didn't enjoy it that much at first: I found it a little too contrived, with more lacking or awkward moments than general fluidity or humor. But then, I read the lyrics. And I soon found it to be 1:00 am, and had watched the video over a dozen times, memorizing bits and pieces of it, which I now recite at a moment's notice.

And that's why I purposefully chose to read something as difficult and time-consuming as an Austen novel, when the weather may be a bit more appropriate for a Dessen. The problem was, I thought it might be... I don't know... different this time. But I assure you, it is just as problematic reading an Austen novel in the summer, as it is during the school year.

However, once you get PAST all of the hard-to-interpret language, and figure out who's actually talking in what section, you can see glimmers of the amazing humor and sarcasm within the words. Northanger Abbey - a parody of the Gothic novels in such popularity at the time of its writing - is an amusing account of a girl, Catherine Morland, who imagines her life to be a little too much like those terrifying and treacherous novels she reads, leading to various difficulties as she realizes, that no, she is no great heroine, but that she might still have her own triumphant ending. This book is a prime example of Austen's wit and sarcasm, her humor, and her talent in creating believable characters, but also provides, within the story, a solid defense against all who claim the lack of literary merit in the novel form.

However, again, I didn't really get the chance to fully appreciate those characteristics of the book, because it took me more than two weeks to actually finish it.

Hopefully, someday, I'll return to Northanger Abbey, and find it to be wildly humorous, incredibly insightful, and as brilliant as I find Austen's works to always be. For right now, though, I'm ditching the dust for something a little more current, and not-so-wordy. :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Let Me Explain...

I needed a change, so I switched up the... everything. Or at least mostly everything. New layout, new style, new background, new color scheme, new "Top Ten" List, new font...

You'll also notice that my brief subtitle bar now reads "An Almost-College Girl," rather than "A High School Girl." This is true: I'm almost in college.

In college, I will be master of my life; therefore, since I am not yet even close to being halfways equipped to take care of myself, I'll just start by being master of my blog. :)

Hope you like it! :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

I Just Want to Fly

I'm beginning to reach that point in my summer vacation when I get really restless. When my sunglasses finally emerge from the dark hole I've been storing them in all year, and the heat makes it nearly impossible for me to sleep a single wink, is the annual time when the walls of my room and the comfort of my own home start to become a little... claustrophobia-inducing. You can only travel the same path so many times before it feels like you're walking in circles. I'm in need of a change in scenery, for the sake of my sanity, if not to seek some new inspiration.

While my current travel budget doesn't allow for express trips to Disneyland at my every whim (ah, someday...), or even the local bus fare, the global adventures offered up to me by my waiting bookshelf are always within my reach, and my broke-girl budget. :) Next stop: Scotland, and Iceland, by way of Margot Livesey's New York Times best-seller, The Flight of Gemma Hardy.

Set in the 1950s and '60s, the novel follows orphan Gemma, as she endures the torture of her cousins and cruel aunt at a young age, is sent to a strict, scripture-led boarding school, serves as au pair to a small girl while under the gaze of her mysterious employer (with an equally mysterious past), who tries to marry her, but she runs away and nearly dies, so she lives with... no, no, don't worry. No spoiler alert is necessary. This all may sound familiar, but there's no cause to claim "copycat": the book is, in itself, "a captivating homage to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre," so claims the inside cover.

If there's anything to fall under the gaze of my discerning eye, and raise my (no less discerning) eyebrow, then it's the claim of an adaptation/reinvention/homage/modern-day/fractured/whatever. Because if you mess up one of my favorite books, I will hate you: tromping around and pulling up flowers in a celebrated and widely-known garden, is the equivalent of mucking about in one of the world's favorite story lines with your own "ideas" and "opinions." If enough people liked it the first time to make it a classic, then why would you think you could do it better the second time? (And let's be honest here: almost three-fourths of these kinds of novels end up being no better than fan fiction.)

(Some, however, do succeed: read my review of April Lindner's take on Jane Eyre - by far, my fave Gothic romance ever - here!)

Livesey - in my opinion - did not successfully integrate the Jane Eyre plot with her own direction; namely, her Scottish-Icelandic flavor and mod-times aesthetic. Specific elements, themes, and occurrences within the novel, so integral to Eyre's story, are either underplayed, underutilized, or flat-out missing from Gemma's story, to the point where I felt like it was not a real adaptation of her novel at all... it was a half-hearted homage. If I had even seen more of Jane's character present within Gemma herself, then I may have felt more of a connection between the two, but on the whole, I felt that Gemma was more judgemental, selfish, and unconcious of her surroundings than Jane ever was.

Getting that out of the way, the book is not describable as "bad," by any means. When not viewed as an interpretation of Bronte's classic lit, The Flight of Gemma Hardy stands on its own as a solid, emotion-driven, not-just-romance novel, plentiful with beautiful descriptions and well-crafted imagery that successfully capture the magic of the various landscapes throughout Gemma's travels in a single sentence, or two. While I did not enjoy the book on the grounds of it being an adaptation of Jane Eyre, I did enjoy it simply as one enjoys a good novel, when accompanied by warm sunshine and cool lemonade. :)

Besides, while the novel itself could not truly take me out of the confines of my own home, my family did manage a brief excursion to the majesty of Mt. Rainier for a little hiking...a day trip to tame my restless soul. And so, for the moment, I am content (enough to wait until our journeys to Seaside, Disneyland, and Sun River come August, of course.) :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Feeling Ferocious


They stagger, suspended, in defiance of gravity, along the sky blue hunting grounds. Quietly, secretly stalking their prey, they advance with deliberation and patience. Afraid of being spotted, they freeze, stuck to their uncommon perpendicular playing field, steadfast, so as not to give themselves away. However, their inky blackness against the pastel paint yields their location. Sensing motion, hearing noise, they scatter, skittering away, attempting to evade the attack of a frightened, cornered, yet no less powerful, prey.

Yet, the shoe will find them, they will fall, and their spindly spider legs will crumple beneath them, for I am a very territorial creature, and I DO NOT WANT ANY MORE SPIDERS IN MY ROOM.

The heat outside - that rare Washingtonian sun that surfaces for naught but a month or two during the summer - is driving them inwards. The problem is, these are not the dinky, dime-sized variety, but the massive, half-dollar sized ones. I have felled three of these monstrous beasts in the past two days, and I can't help but feel a repetitive scratch, like a little arachnid tap-dance, even when they are not there. It makes me nervous, and itchy. Nonetheless, I am the superior.

This curious sort of bond between biological beings - the question of dominance, the predator/prey relationship - is the most enthralling aspect of my current reading material: The scientific techno-thriller classic, Jurassic Park, by Micheal Crichton. The incredibly popular novel - which spent 3 months on the New York Times Bestseller List before being made into Stephen Spielberg's 1993 tri-Oscar winning major motion picture - was found in the heap of my Dad's books in our garage, but was far more heavily recommended by my younger sister, the Cheerleader, who had read the book earlier this year, after prodding from a dino-minded friend. The two fell so deeply in love with the novel, that they recently attended a lecture in Seattle, at the Pacific Science Center, of one of the paleontologists whose work helped form Jurassic Park. If this novel could cause such a mammoth shift in my sister's reading material - which normally consisted of the likes of Dessen and Sparks -  then it was certainly worth my notice, and I quickly set about making plans for a trip to Isla Nublar, off the coast of Costa Rica.

If you are like me, and have seen the movie before reading the books, then you are prepared for the suspense, and later, gore, that you will find within the lush forests of Dr. Hammond's Jurassic Park resort. If you are not, then you should have paid closer attention to the description on the back of the book, as well as the T. Rex on the cover. This territory is not meant to be tread by children, as you will find readily apparent in young Lex and Timmy's encounters with the dinosaurs. Or even some less steel-hearted adults, as you will see in Ed Regis' run-in. The point is, there's a lot of carnage (if you've braved any of the Game of Thrones books, you're fine). But, even with all of the blood being mentioned, this is not a slasher book.

Crichton doesn't kill based on pure whimsy: there is deep method and research that goes into each of his novels, with major-name consultants whose work in their fields have defined such sciences as paleontology. We couldn't expect anything less than a Harvard Med Grad. The world he has crafted and then set into chaos is so suspenseful and terrifying, because we can recognize the reflections of reality within it. While no one has successfully cloned a dinosaur yet, through Crichton, we can not only see how someone could, but also how they could go horribly wrong. The lifelike components of his characters mirror how people would act in these given scary situations, as well as the various ways they could be eaten by various dinosaurs. The true forte of Crichton's works is found in the skewed, but nonetheless, scientific views, of how our world could shift, and how we would rise up to face the change.

The writing is captivating, and while there is a bit of a slow build-up, once you hit the action, you can't let go. This thrill ride, which takes you through foggy forests and raptor jaws, into what you can only hope is safe territory, is wholly deserving of its Rex-sized reputation. 


P.S. Making bookmarks is a hobby of mine, and you may have noticed the one I prominently displayed on the corner of my Jurassic Park copy. To make your own, follow these simple instructions:

Draw a Dino.
Color the Dino.
Cut out the Dino.

ADD TEETH. the end. <3




Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Trapped

 As you can see, evidenced in the delicate pink blooms at the back of the picture, summer is officially reflected in the backyard of my house. The sun is shining, birds are trilling, the grass is waving... and I can tell you all of this for certain, because I'm watching it all right now, through the window to my kitchen. The same place I've been sitting for the past three days. Same. Place. Now that I've graduated, I'm trapped in my own house, without company or a car. So, things have been very quiet around here recently. 

Well, then, it's time to get some reading done, and nothing says bright skies and cheerful sunshine, like a dystopian future ruled by a crumbling oligarchic system...

I had originally bought Matched, by Ally Condie, for my sister, the Cheerleader, as a Christmas present this year (well, my Mom bought it, but it was my idea). While she really only reads realistic teen lit, this book had come highly recommended from  various sources, so I convinced her to give it a chance, and see what she thought of it. In the end, she actually loved it, and told me I should read it as well. I, however, was a little less receptive. I've already voiced my opinions on the majority of romantic teen lit to many, loudly, and do not usually pursue this kind of reading material unless I'm running out of options or mental processing capacity. However, just while I was reaching for my new copy of Mrs. Dalloway, I caught a glimpse of the alluring mint green on the cover, and thought, why not? I mean, it's not like I'm going anywhere... 

What I found was not simply a teen romance, however. Nor was it simply a dystopian novel. This book was more than the sum of it's Amazon description. 

Cassia Reyes is a seventeen-year-old girl, living her life according to the guidelines set forth by the mysterious Officials, and enforced by the Officers, without questioning or rebellion. According to the plans set forth by these Officials - including carefully regulated meals, limited options for clothing or recreational activities, deciding where people live or work - individuals are Matched, tying them to another person determined most compatible. However, for Cassia, not just one person's face flashes up on the screen. What follows isn't simply just a love triangle, nor is it simply a picture of a society whose control is slowly slipping away. It's the portrait of a girl, who is just beginning to learn how to fight for something she believes in. Matched 's cover colors were chosen correctly: a flash of bright green, breaking through the monotony of cool grey, like Cassia's growth and newness of spirit, altering the bleak landscape of which she is a part.

The book is good, better than most of its genre. And now that its sequel, Crossed, came out in November, and the third of the trilogy, Reached, comes out THIS November, if I ever have a hankering for this particular brand of teen lit again, I know where to find it.

However, I'm still homebound, which means I have to quickly find another book before I go insane, which I cannot certify will be as enjoyable as this one. Oh, darn. (But at least I have the choice to do so.) :)