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50 Years of YA, Part 5

This post has been written for, like, two weeks, and I just realized I never published it!   Whoops!  Here you are:

#28: How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

A riveting and astonishing story.

Putting this book up against other postmodern stories, this one wasn’t too bad.  I liked the sort of casual approach to a human-made disaster.  This is a motif I’ve seen a few times in recent literature, and I think it creates a different dialogue on a worn-out trope.  You know, we have a lot of books about after the disaster (dystopian), and a lot of books from before (realism/realistic), but I like that people are venturing into during.

I will say, though, that the romantic relationship in this book weirded me out a little bit.  I am all for forward thinking and inclusive portrayals of relationships in YA.  I’m just not so sure that I think incest is one such story that should be told.

To be fair, the taboo relationship is handled with care throughout this text.  It’s also not the focus, as most of the story feels more like a coming-of-age experience and a journey tale.  I’m just not sure that I agree with its presence, period.  Very weird, if you ask me.

In terms of the overall story, it’s an excellent book.  But no OTP here for me.

 

#32: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, M.T. Anderson

It sounds like a fairy tale. He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the finest of classical educations. Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother — a princess in exile from a faraway land — are the only persons in their household assigned names. As the boy’s regal mother, Cassiopeia, entertains the house scholars with her beauty and wit, young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians’ fanatical studies. Only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments — and his own chilling role in them. Set against the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson’s extraordinary novel takes place at a time when American Patriots rioted and battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim. The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

I’ll be honest: this was the book during which I finally decided it would be okay to only read the first book in the series, rather than the entire set of books.

I just did not understand this one.  I liked the premise.  I think it’s important to consider the perspective of slaves and “nontraditional” Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries.  But I lost interest in the actual production.  What’s the point of creating a fabricated universe of horror, when actual historical events could capture it well enough?

I’ll also be honest: period language is difficult for me to understand and appreciate.  I associate it with my least favorite college classes, and then it was written by people who actually spoke it and used it.  I’m not a fan of fabricating it for false authenticity.

I’ve also noticed in this list of titles a strong emphasis on literature that may appeal more heavily to a masculine audience, and I think this one applies.  I feel like it’s good that this list sought to be inclusive.  However, now I’m thinking we need several 50 Best Books lists that give 50 titles to each characteristic found in a few of each of the books on this list… Hmmm….

 

#33: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

With a forward by Markus Zusak, interviews with Sherman Alexie and Ellen Forney, and four-color interior art throughout, this edition is perfect for fans and collectors alike.

I’m so glad that I finally read this one!  It’s been on my TBR for far too long.  Do I understand why it is mainly read as a required book for school?  Yes.  Do I think everyone should read it at least once, regardless of requirement or otherwise?  Also yes.

This book is a little more didactic than I prefer in my YA, but I’ll forgive Alexie for the simple fact that he is providing an uncommon narrative to an audience that is most likely unfamiliar with it.  The struggle of Native American tribes in the U.S. is largely silenced, as is revealed in this text.  I think it’s wonderful that Alexie sought to provide a first-person account from someone in this people group to a younger audience.

It has earned its awards, even if it’s not the most fantastic fast-paced story I’ve ever encountered.  Kudos to you, Mr. Alexie, and thank you.

 

#35: The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1), Patrick Ness

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

Okay, it’s time for two truths:

  1. I have never read A Monster Calls
  2. After reading this book, I am now terrified to read the above title, for fear of hating it.

I need to be honest, y’all–I did NOT enjoy this book at all.  I didn’t even really finish it.  I felt like the premise was really neat, but it took too long to figure out what the actual drive of the plot even was.  Too much mystery with absolutely no reveal.  And then, the one shocking fact was shared, and it was not surprising at all.  It was completely predictable, and also something that I had thought was inherently known from the beginning.

I also fear that Ness has the same problem John Green has: writing the death of lovable characters for the sentimental response of the reader.  This book had at least one, if not two or three, deaths of great characters (I won’t name them, but you may also be able to guess [like I did]) so that the reader has an emotional reaction to them.  I detest this type of story, ever since I was doped by Uncle Tom’s Cabin (still a great book, but let’s be honest, some of those dying scenes are meant to leave you an emotional wreck).  And so all authenticity was lost in the first moments of these deaths.

And finally, our villain.  Or, at least, one of them.  The character that continues to almost die and always returns.  I could definitely do without him.

This one is perhaps like the others that are directed more heavily toward a masculine/boy audience.  And yet, I can’t help but think that young men deserve better.

I may still one day give A Monster Calls a chance, but it won’t be any time soon.  My trust has been broken before it was fully extended.

 

#40: The Monstrumologist, Rick Yancey

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthorpe, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?

This was another series that I won’t be finishing, but I can honestly say it’s only because it’s outside my genre.

I started this book expecting something out of Supernatural, the TV show about the brothers who fight evil beings.  The actual result was very different.  This story is much slower paced, but has some fun and interesting twists along the way.  I also think the layout of the book (letters) contributes well to the eerie tone.

I found the pace of the book to be a little boring, especially as I was expecting Sam-and-Dean speed action.  The slower evaluation and experience of the doctor and his assistant isn’t a total negative; it’s just not something I enjoy and so it’s not something I will be finishing.

But this is one of the few titles that I’m like, not for me, but others will probably enjoy it!  So, if you don’t mind a bit of monstrous gore, go for it!  I think you may really like it!

 

44: The Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

This is the first series on this list that I have finished, cover-to-cover-to-cover-to-cover!  Ha!  And I did so for a couple reasons: (1) the characters are engaging, (2) the mythology is not Greek/Roman, and (3) Will Patton read the audiobooks!

This is an excellent mysterious story about several different people who, through fate, find their lives inevitably intertwined.  I have a few plot issues with the story, but overall, I really did enjoy what came out of it.  The individuals are well-sculpted with strengths and flaws like real people.  And while the story begins with a focus on two specific characters, all of the “supporting roles” get excellent opportunities to “shine.”

You can tell that Stiefvater built this story in a Rowling-like way: with the end in mind as she sculpted each installment.  It’s also in true Stiefvater fashion, in that even the end of all four books leaves you wishing you had more from her.

I’m not a fan of romance, so I was extremely skeptical by the premise of this book (Blue’s fortune, and Gansey’s fate).  However, the romantic side of the story did not overpower the mythology, friendship, and mystery.  Sure, it got mushy at different points, but it wasn’t suffocating.

I had characters I liked and ones I didn’t, and overall, I have positive feelings about this series.  I can see why people are reading it, and I agree with its inclusion on our list.  You should try it, too.

 

#48: A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery, Albert Marrin

John Brown is a man of many legacies, from hero, freedom fighter, and martyr, to liar, fanatic, and “the father of American terrorism.” Some have said that it was his seizure of the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry that rendered the Civil War inevitable.

Deeply religious, Brown believed that God had chosen him to right the wrong of slavery. He was willing to kill and die for something modern Americans unanimously agree was a just cause. And yet he was a religious fanatic and a staunch believer in “righteous violence,” an unapologetic committer of domestic terrorism. Marrin brings 19th-century issues into the modern arena with ease and grace in a book that is sure to spark discussion.

This is one that I just skimmed, but I felt I had to include it here for consideration anyway.

I was raised on stories of Bonhoeffer, so Brown’s approach to righteousness was not unfamiliar to me.  It’s interesting to see some of the connections drawn between the men.

I think it’s also good to include books like this that shed light on different parts of history, particularly if those stories weren’t likely to end up in traditional history books.

Not much more to say than that; a history buff page-turner, for sure!

 

#49: I Crawl Through It, A.S. King

Four talented teenagers are traumatized-coping with grief, surviving date rape, facing the anxiety of standardized tests and the neglect of self-absorbed adults–and they’ll do anything to escape the pressure. They’ll even build an invisible helicopter, to fly far away to a place where everyone will understand them… until they learn the only way to escape reality is to face it head-on.

I really hate to end this post on a negative note, but this is the last book in chronological order to report on today, so here it is:

This book, I did not understand.  I get that it’s supposed to be this postmodern piece in teen literature, but I don’t think it does the best job.  In fact, I think the effort to create this oasis-type space (accessible by invisible helicopter, obviously) detracts from the actual, real-life struggles of the four main teen characters in this story.

We should expose teens to all sorts of different genres of literature, absolutely.  But I don’t think that should come at the expense of extending clear and honest understanding on topics that real teens face in real life.  And so, while this book addresses some of those ideas with the lives of its characters, the idea of a helicopter as escape is not what I would call a healthy response.

I don’t think YA should prescribe solutions to teen problems (particularly when obvious ones aren’t present in real-life), but I also think leaving vague, figurative experiences as answers can cause as much damage as the overly didactic.  There is certainly a balance to be found, and I think other books on this list do a better job.

Some people love this book and this author.  Good for you.  I’m going to continue to pass.

 

Here’s to hoping for a positive conclusion on the next YA post!

Also, keep your eyes peeled for upcoming projects:

  • An “Unpopular Opinions” book tag post! 😀 [The first confession will send you “Rowling”!]
  • A Review of Mindy McGinnis’ Not a Drop to Drink and In A Handful of Dust

Cheers, and happy reading!

 

All block quotes are copied from Goodreads.com
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What Happened When I Read Hillary’s Book: A Review of “What Happened”

What Happened

I pre-ordered Hillary Clinton’s new book What Happened almost as soon as it was available (and marked down on Amazon).  I got my copy a whole afternoon early (you go, Amazon!  I’m sorry I say mean things about you), and decided to read it immediately.

I wanted to read this book for extremely personal reasons, all centered around my own reaction to the results of the 2016 Presidential Election.  Reading this would be an intimate experience for me, not a public one.  So when a friend of mine asked, as I neared the end of the book, whether I would talk about it here–on my blog–I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to that.

I try to remain as unbiased and indirect on here as possible.  I make sure my most offensive and arguable opinions are based around my taste in books.  What I love most about the book blogging community is that, despite our diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and ideas, we can come together under the same opinion that books are AWESOME.  And the last thing I want to do is say or talk about something divisive to hurt the common ground we share.

But this book affected me in ways that I can’t ignore, just like last year’s United State Presidential Election, so I feel like I need to talk about what I thought.

I’ll try to treat this with as much professionalism as possible, but I may also gush over how wonderful it was to hear the emotions and feelings of this powerful woman from her own pen.

So, here we go.

 

What Happened is, quite literally, what happened in 2016 and in everything that led up to Election Day.  Hillary splits her time between discussing political history and revealing some of the personal moments from her experience on and leading up to the campaign trail.  She talks about many of the hot topics that hit her campaign, including race, gender, and sexuality discussions, her emails, and general campaign decorum differences between herself and Trump.  She is, most definitely, writing to her constituencies, addressing their questions about what happened, rather than trying to explain herself to those who did not believe in or agree with her.  Therefore, her tone is one of camaraderie and understanding rather than explanation and justification.  She concludes with a hopeful look to the future, one in which another several women will be leading the way.

In reading this book, I felt that Hillary Clinton was actually telling two different stories: a political one, and a personal one.  Each story resonated differently with me, and their combination gave me a different overall impression.

The personal side of this book was beautiful.  Hillary is extremely honest about her emotional responses before, during, and after her campaign.  She speaks very honestly about where and when she struggled, what gave her the energy to keep going (her family, of course), and what still breaks her heart today.  It was this element of the book that led me to want to read it.  I was devastated over her loss, and I wanted to know how she was coping and what she recommended for us.  These moments humanized Hillary Clinton in a beautiful way.  I loved getting to know the woman behind the movement.

The personal moments in this book also include a lot of Hillary’s explanations as to why she supports the policy that she does.  This part resonated with me a lot.  I am the only Hillary supporter in my direct family, and I’m also one of the only ones who would claim to be “moderate” or “liberal” (I find myself to be moderate, but when we have those few and infrequent political discussions they claim I’m more liberal).  Many of my family’s conservative beliefs stem from a religious, moral foundation.  While I share a similar foundation, I’ve disagreed with many of their convictions for years.  This has often presented either an impasse in our discussions, or some of my family members conclude that I don’t actually believe what I claim to believe.  To read someone who also has similar convictions talking with passions about the things I agree with was empowering and encouraging.  And Hillary doesn’t just list numbers–she talks about her real-life convictions on discussions around hot-button issues, and where they stem from.  That was absolutely enjoyable.

She is also so honest in her evaluation of Donald Trump, it would be scandalous if she was still in office.  Yet, as someone who had wanted to see her take the stage on Inauguration Day, I felt her convictions were more than justified (and cathartic).

And, of course, she is apologetic about where her campaign fell short and why.  While some of these feel glossed over due to the way the book is written (categorically, and then chronologically), she hits hard on those topics that the media claimed she was unwilling to discuss.

The other half of Hillary’s book was focused on the political history surrounding the campaign.  This is where many people grew frustrated with her, because she speaks directly about people like Bernie Sanders and why their campaigns were destined to fail (or how they hurt her campaign).  This is where she writes about the “cold-hard facts,” the statistics, the realities.  She looks at a developing history surrounding her own career, as well as Democrats and Republicans in general.  She looks closely at the issues that decided the campaign and what role policy, partisan politics, and the media played in each.  This is where the chronology is most important, because she helps us see both how Trump unexpectedly won and why so many people decided to support him.

These sections I found a little less interesting, if just because I’m not a political science-minded person.  I appreciate historical context and facts, but dates and details are a little more mind-numbing to me.  And, while I think it was important to the writing of this book, I felt like it wasn’t why I wanted to read it.  That it was written for a different audience than me.

Which leads me to my evaluation of the book as a whole–I think the two different elements, combined in one, hurt the message of each individual piece.  And I think this is why many people (who should love her book; I’m ignoring the one-star reviews on Goodreads from Trump supporters who just want to watch the world burn) criticize her integrity and purpose in its creation.  It’s because she talks about flaws in Bernie’s campaign next to moments in which she expresses personal frustrations with the Congressman that lead some people to say she’s bashing Bernie in the book.  That’s not the impression I got, but I can understand why people may think that.

The combination also seems to weaken some of her apologies.  While she may be expressing conviction over a decision she made, she would also be talking about a whole history of people that created her situation.  At times, this felt like a cop-out, which hurt the overall integrity of the piece.

In the end, I think Hillary’s book appealed to two separate audiences who may or may not appreciate both book elements.  I don’t know that she could have picked one or the other, or if she would have been capable of writing two different “what happened” titles, but at minimum, the collaboration of the elements could have been stronger.

 

My final conviction over this book is that it was necessary.  Millions of Americans, including Hillary, were left reeling after the election results.  Many people were asking the question this title mimics.  Others, like me, were asking “what’s next?” or “what do we do?”  This book is encouraging because it addresses those concerns.  Hillary validates them by confirming that she feels them too.  And expresses regret at what was lost, but hope for what may come.  And that, right now, is what we need.

Thank you for making it to the end of one of my more partisan posts.  I appreciate your support.  May we seek to always be inclusive in our reviews and discussions, giving voice to all beliefs and convictions, while still returning to the fundamental idea that books have the power to bring us together.

“What do we do now?” I said.  There was only one answer: “Keep going.”

–Hillary Rodham Clinton

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April Review

Great news, guys!  This month, I finally finished my master’s program for Library and Information Science! Whoohoo!

I have been short and absent for a little while because most of my attention has gone toward my final research project write-up, which I finally submitted two weeks ago.  I haven’t really had much time to read physical books here recently (I’ve listened to several audiobooks this month, of course), but here at the end I was able to finish a couple.  It seemed like an appropriate time to do a month in review and catch you up on the “good,” the “bad,” and the “neutral” books I *experienced* in April.  Here we go!

The Good

I read and listened to several books this month that I really enjoyed, and it feels appropriate to start off with them.  In no particular order, here they are:

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

That’s right! I finally got my hands on the audiobook of this fantastic thriller, and I have to say it did not disappoint.  Moriarty’s books tend to be only slightly remarkable to me, particularly because I, as a very recently married, childless American woman in her 20’s, can’t really relate to the characters (too much ennui, if you know what I mean).  So, imagine my glee at discovering that one of the main characters was, in fact, my EXACT age!  Jane made the entire story more appealing to me, as she offered a perspective on the situations I could better understand.  The plot twists and coincidences were spectacular!  I have to admit that I had solved almost the entire mystery of the Trivia Night well before the characters arrived there, but knowing the conclusion did not ruin the thrill of the chase!  Plus, unlike some mysteries of it’s kind, I didn’t reach the moment of revelation and think, “Wait, that’s it?”  All in all, this book has everything a drama-loving chick lit reader could desire, and it offers it in an excellent and well-classed manner.  Plus, who can deny the storytelling wonder that is Caroline Lee?

 

The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey

To be completely honest, this book took me by surprise.  I found it on a list of recommended audiobooks based of the performance of Finty Williams, and it had previously been recommended to me by a coworker at Barnes & Noble.  As I point out in my GoodReads review, normally when I come across a book, movie, or TV show with a zombie apocalypse premise, I discard it.  They just aren’t my cup of tea.  This zombie apocalypse tale, however, was impossible to ignore.  Melanie is such an interesting character, right from the start.  Carey does an excellent job of capturing child-like innocence; it stands in harsh contrast to the actual virus that is playing out in the rest of the world.  The characters are also beautifully complex.  They each fill an apocalyptic stereotype–doctor, sergeant, humanitarian, soldier, monster–and yet there struggles over right, wrong, life, and death are very real.  Carey does more than just deliver the traditional horror story of an abandoned planet left to rot from its own disease; he tells the same story in a new way that leads you to really think about the possibilities and the consequences.  I will probably never read anything like this again, and that’s okay, but for what it’s worth this is now one of my more favored books of all time.

 

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything In Between, Lauren Graham

This book was delightful.  I love how Graham wrote in a stream-of-consciousness style, where she trips over her own sentences, starts and stops her stories, and tries to pull the wool over her audience’s eyes before ultimately admitting she was fibbing.  It was not necessarily a life-changing book (although the intellectual components of it succeeded what I had expected; I had no idea Graham had an MFA!).  However, it was heartwarming and encouraging.  In many ways, I think Graham was writing to all of the Rorys who watched Gilmore Girls as they grew up, speaking to them with just enough wisdom and humility to encourage good decisions and confidence.  I’m not entirely sure what I liked most about this book, but what I do know is that there’s no way I couldn’t like it.

 

The Bad

Let’s face it–when you read enough books, you’re going to come across some stinkers.  This month’s let-downs were a surprise to me; I picked them assuming they would be excellent.  However, I feel like I have some pretty good reasons for not fully appreciating them.

 

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Let me just say that I really wish YA novelists would stop trying to write “historical fiction” about the 1970s and ’80s.  It’s just not working for me; it feels too inauthentic.

I think this book had a wonderful, inspirational premise that simply wasn’t carried to fruition.  What was an attempt at complexity came across as confusion.  For instance, I could never figure out the family reality for either character because it seemed to change with no warning quite often.  Also, while I understood the trope of the older brother, I did not necessarily feel like his significance in the end filled up the chasm created by mentions of him.  This book’s most redeeming quality was its honest treatment of sexual discovery for two young boys, which was treated with taste and discretion.  However, I don’t think that the fact that it openly addresses homosexuality should forgive some of its other shortcomings.  There are other LGBTQ friendly YA fiction books that handle the subject in a better way.

And, actually (perhaps most disappointing of all), I didn’t care for Lin-Manuel Miranda on the audiobook! His changes in inflection for characters’ speaking voices was not consistent, and I frequently lost the conversation as he was reading.

 

Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon

Yes, I read this one because of the upcoming movie.  The way the film preview portrayed it kept me from realizing how much of a romance it actually is.  While I have my qualms about teen love stories and their inflation of reality, this one wasn’t terrible.  What bothered me more is, I don’t like reading stories about bad mothers.

I couldn’t even finish the film Mommy Dearest.  My mom is, like, my best friend, and I hate thinking poorly of mother figures, ever.  I felt like the conclusion of this book (without, hopefully, giving too much away) destroyed a well-established relationship between mother and daughter, for quite frankly no reason.  This family bond was broken so that the future could potentially bring to teenagers into a romantic relationship.  Even if the mother-daughter situation is eventually solved, I don’t care for the situations this type of plot creates.  It’s like If I Stay.  While I’m happy Mia decides to live, I hate that it is because of Adam.  This book led me to the same problems.  Don’t hurt a mother’s love to make your childhood fling work out in the end.

 

 

Diary of an Oxygen Thief

You know, I never liked Holden Caulfied, so reading about him as an “alcoholic,” as the back of this book says, should have tipped me off to how little I would enjoy this story.  Don’t get me wrong–I think it has a purpose.  I have seen other reviews that talk about how this book is terrible because it glorifies harming others and selfishness.  I don’t think it so much glorifies it as puts it under the same microscope as “Black Mirror” does for its commentaries.  The reality is that many of us do what Aisling eventually does to our main character; photographing, highlighting, capturing others’ pain is an everyday occurrence, and we need a well-written commentary on it to open our eyes to its barbarity.  This book just wasn’t the right way to go about it.

This book reads, to me, like a hipster who is trying to be edgy.  The plot is fairly formulaic and, at times, very intentionally offensive.  This step-by-step novel style takes away a lot of the authenticity, and it suggests that very little actual creativity went into the story’s creation.  Had the pages felt more authentic and less scripted, perhaps this would have been more successful.  As it stands, its just a book written to get everybody riled up for no reason.

 

The Neutral

These books weren’t bad, but they weren’t spectacular either.  It’s in the medium-style titles that I think we take the most comfort.  Most of our reading will be at the extremes, but knowing we have these to return to is a help.

 

The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson

As a fan of “The Silence of the Lambs,” this book was pretty interesting to me.  It was dark and creepy in all the right places, and it seems to be ahead of its time in its treatment of the Average Joe Serial Killer.  I listened to the audiobook because I had never really experienced a story of its kind–one in which you are in the mind of the killer, and you know that no one knows its him.  An enticing psychological drama with just enough grit to keep you interested til the end.

 

 

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

As a former English major, I feel obligated to read a classic every once in a while and stay on top of my older book readings.  I picked this one out because of several good reviews I had heard of it, including that it was significant and relevant to today.  It certainly did not disappoint, even though the ending made me very sad indeed.  I like how Hardy wrestles with what to do with a woman who has been wronged and is then ostracized for what has happened.  It was also interesting to read Angel’s perspective and to see him struggle to figure out what was right in the given situation.  It isn’t my favorite classic, but it was quite enjoyable to read.

 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling

The Harry Potter series is great to reread, because on your second and third times through you pick up on subtle hints you would have otherwise overlooked.  I have never had a huge and overwhelming appreciation for Harry Potter; I like that it has created a generation of readers and that Rowling is unapologetic about the political undertones in the stories, but it’s simply not my story style.  While I rarely read zombie books, I never read fantasy.  Still, it has been enjoyable to revisit these audiobooks (read by the fantastic Jim Dale), especially alongside my husband.  It was an enjoyable ride to Hogwarts as we listened to it in the car.

 

There you have it!  My April list!  I’m still thinking through the direction I want to take this blog, so keep your eyes out for changes and developments.  Until then, I’m off to start the first book of May.

Happy Reading!

 

 

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As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

The past couple weeks have been very stressful for me between work and school, so I haven’t been able to do much reading.  However, over the course of the last few days, I finally finished the audiobook of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden.  This book was amazing on many counts, but what I enjoyed most about it was the fact that each participant in the making of one of my favorite movies wrote a few passages, and in this particular audiobook many of them read those passages themselves.

This book read like a nostalgic memoir, one in which the reader is only let in on a few of the chaste secrets from the making of the movie.  Cary walks us through the creation of the film from start to finish, revealing facts about the movie that fans would not readily know.  For instance, I would have never guessed how nervous Wallace Shawn was over his role as Vizzini.  I also would have never known that Wesley’s limp in the “Life is Pain, Highness” sequence was a result of Cary breaking his toe before shooting began that day!  In many ways, particularly due to the constant changing voices, this book sounded like the audio of a television special, in which individuals interviews were held with each cast member, the director, and others.

I think this book was perfect to enjoy during my last few days.  It wasn’t highly intellectual and the revelations weren’t necessarily deep.  It was purely enjoyable, much like the film itself.  I’ve loved this movie since I was a girl, and so in many ways I felt that I was catching up with old friends.  It was a great distraction from everything else, and could not have come at a more opportune time.

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Listen Up!

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks.  Most of my time in February and March has been set aside for working on my final master’s project, which isn’t a thesis but might as well be based on all the time and energy I have put into it… Anyway, having such a large project to complete by April takes up a lot of my would-be pleasure reading time, and when I’m not working on my paper and try to read I feel guilty for not working.  Thus, the only way I can feed my reading habit and stay on top of my project is to listen to audiobooks at points where writing and editing aren’t an option–say, in the car or at work.

I know audiobooks aren’t always the most popular book format in the reading world.  For instance, whenever I tell people I listened to Harry Potter (read by the fantastic Jim Dale, who is phenomenal in all things but in particular his renditions of children’s books), I’ve had some people tell me that I haven’t actually read the series.  On the other hand, I have had many of my fellow audiobook lovers share some of their favorite aspects of audiobook listening.  I fall firmly on the side of pro-audiobook, particularly as it relates to reading.  I’m a very slow reader, and I don’t like to read really long books (and, as previously stated, no reading time).  However, when I listen to audiobooks, the story continues on even though my eyes would have given up, and I can stand to “sit through” very long and important texts.  I listened to Watership Down in January and liked it a lot, although I know myself well enough to be confident that I would never have actually sat down and read the story in print.  Thus, I love audiobooks because they broaden my reading focus and allow me to experience certain books and series I would have otherwise continued to ignore.

For me, there are certain types of books that lend themselves to audio format.  First and foremost is any book read by the actual author.  These can be fictional stories, although they are most often memoirs, which are the second best kind of audiobook to listen to.  The third best type of audiobook to listen to, in my humble opinion, are children’s books and YA.  If you have a YA memoir read by the author, you’ve hit the jackpot! (We Should Hang Out Sometime was great!).  After these typically spectacular and wonderful audios come those which are read by talented storytellers, like Jim Dale.  Will Patton is another of my favorite readers; he’s done many Stephen King books and adds the perfect gritty texture to the already creepy stories!  Unfortunately, unless you follow a voice actor through his or her entire repertoire and listen to books marked as read by them, this is the hardest type of book to find.  It is still very worth it, though, when you do come across those gems.

I tend to go back and forth with what I listen to a lot of time, and so my previous “reads” are all over the place.  For instance, last week I finished the audiobook for Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland.  This book is the perfect example of a reading by a great storyteller.  Robbie Daymond has been voice acting for (literally) decades onscreen and on tape, and his talent shows through in this book.  From the first few sentences of the story–which were very well-written, I might add–Robbie had me hooked to the content.  However, I unfortunately lost touch with the characters and the plot, and didn’t enjoy the ending at all.  For a YA, the characters behaved more like adults.  It wasn’t just that they were experiencing Adult Things, as does happen when people grow up; it was more like the story became unrelatable to most teenagers in the emotional responses and behaviors of the protagonists.  I have a full review of this book on my Goodreads if you would like to hear more about my opinions.  They aren’t as important here as the fact that this book represents what I love about audiobooks: fun, lively reads brought to life by talented voices.

I really do love listening to YA, but I have to say that my favorite type of audiobook is the memoir that is read by its author.  After Our Chemical Hearts, I jumped into With My Eyes Wide Open: Miracles & Mistakes on My Way Back to KoRn, written (co-written) and read by Brian “Head” Welch.  This book, his second, chronicles his life after he found Christ and *converted* to Christianity.  He also talks extensively about his daughter and their relationship through some pretty serious stuff.  I love rock and metal music, Christian-based and otherwise, and so Brian’s story has been one I’ve followed since it began.    Listening to this audiobook, I was brought to tears multiple times by Brian’s stories, his daughter’s struggles, and his faith.  The power of his words, being read by him, was unreal.  I was also so pleased to hear him speaking to the need to diversify contemporary Christianity.  He addresses it from the music perspective, hoping that people will become more accepting of different genres in this particular niche.  Brian’s words expressed an honest, straight-forward understanding of the gospel.  Listening to his audiobook was an intimate experience for me, the perfect expression of why I love audiobooks and what they can do to and for reading.

Following With My Eyes Wide Open, I listened to Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, written and read by Jenny Lawson.  This memoir couldn’t have been more different from Welch’s, other than the fact that both of them address mental illness in their stories.  While Brian had me crying, Jenny had me laughing hysterically! (Seriously.  I listen to my audiobooks in my car, and I got some pretty weird looks from fellow drivers, who were obviously wondering, “What is wrong with that weird girl alone in her car?  Why is she cackling like mad for no reason?”)  Jenny’s entire persona comes through her work anyway, so listening to her read her book made it feel like I was watching her speak live, or talking to her one-on-one.  Her stories were so delightful, even though their subject matter was very heavy.  She left me wanting more.  An audiobook should entertain you and challenge you to think about the world in different ways.  Lawson’s stories do just that.

These are just three of my most recent audiobooks, but I wanted to share them with you.  There’s something really special about listening to someone’s creation.  Plus, I love being able to “read” even when I don’t have time to follow words on a page.

If you’ve never tried audiobooks, let me challenge you to pick one up. I recommend Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for those who are Hogwarts fans.  Otherwise, find a book by an author you love and go for it.  You won’t regret it.

 

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LuLaRoe: How Leggings are Saving Me from Social Media

I’m going to go a little off-book (ha!) on my post today.  Instead of reviewing what I’m reading right now, I’m going to talk about something that has taken as much of my attention in the past month as reading: LuLaRoe.

I’m sure most women in the United States at this point have heard of this clothing line, sold Mary Kay-style by consultants in Facebook Groups and in-house parties.  The clothing is soft, the patterns are vibrant, and the leggings, in particular, are amazing.

I’m not here to make a sale pitch to LuLaRoe (no free commercials from me; I’ll leave those to Kellyanne).  Instead, I want to talk about something that happened to me, and LuLaRoe is the focal point.

I have always been a sucker for retail therapy.  When I’m stressed out or bummed about life, I like to go and walk around a mall somewhere with shops that cater to my interests (i.e. Barnes & Noble is a must).  I don’t necessarily like the crowds so much as the atmosphere.  I’ve had this for years, where buying something gives me that little pick-me-up I need to get through the rest of my day.  Of course, I’m very aware this isn’t the healthiest way to deal with negative emotions.  As an English student, I was also informed of the potential postmodern ramifications of this habit.  I remember when one of my former professors compared retail therapy to Baudrillard’s theory on simulacra, and I wanted to cry.  I know I’m a slave to capitalism and commodities as much as the next person; I just don’t like being called out on it!

All philosophy and theory aside, I love shopping (even just window shopping!), because it’s one small element of my life that I find stress-relieving.

For the last two years, books have been the largest portion of my retail therapy.  I worked in a bookstore, so they were readily available, and most of my friends and family were also buying and reading books.  Books have the added advantage of taking your mind off things after you buy them, because you then read them and escape to other worlds.  They were the perfect prescription of retail therapy for me, the stressed out master’s student.  However, I now work full-time in a library and can get most of my reading material for free; I also no longer have an employee discount at a bookstore.  So, I’ve been spending less money on books in recent months.

Jump forward to last month, January, when I was introduced to LuLaRoe for the first time.  Now, about 30 days later, I have three tops and eight pairs of leggings.  I’ll admit it–I dove in headfirst and bought my way back to the surface.

There are some fairly realistic reasons for my swan dive that aren’t linked to the main idea of this post–stress and emotional coping mechanisms.  A big part of my interest is purely physical.  For more than half a decade, stress and work environments had left me skinnier than I should have been.  After getting married last year, I have returned to a relatively healthy BMI; however, in the process of getting there, I gained nearly 20 pounds.  People who know me personally laugh at me when I mention this gain, but they don’t fully understand the ramifications of this development.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy to be a normal-sized human again, away from the dangerous stages of being underweight (and my husband in particular is grateful for the improved *ahem* curves).  I’m happy in my body, and other than seeking ways to keep my diet healthy and making sure I exercise, I’m not trying to change it.  But here’s the thing, guys: after nearly 6 years of being a size 0, I am now a 2-4, and NONE of my clothes fit.  I’ve gained just enough weight that my jeggings and skinny jeans are unbearable, my dress pants don’t button, and my fitted tops stretch uncomfortably.  I have been in need of a  wardrobe modification since the beginning of my new job, but money for a fresh look isn’t readily available to a twenty-something newlywed.  And besides, what if I lose a lot of weight again? (Or reach a size 6?).

LuLaRoe, in many ways, came to my rescue at just the right time.  I’m not suggesting the clothing is cheap and/or super affordable–I conveniently had Christmas blow money left over for most of what I bought.  What it is, though, is flexible.  The One Size leggings fit me, and I know they will fit me if I gain weight or lose it.  It’s the same way with the tops.  They’re comfortable, modest, and flattering, and at a time where I feel very exposed and inappropriate in a lot of my clothing, they’re lifesavers.  (Also, in terms of price, it’s relatively comparable to any other decent clothing brand/store/line that sells things I wound find appropriate for work.)

I also really appreciate the opportunity to support local ladies (and gentlemen!).  There’s something very personal about the LuLaRoe selling platform.  And I love having the opportunity to give business to my neighbors and friends.

For the last few weeks, I have found it hard to talk about anything without bringing up LuLaRoe.  I have worn all of my pieces in work and weekend outfits; I’ve perfected my chosen methods for washing and hang-drying (including making plans to buy a new and separate drying rack to accommodate the influx); I participate in every giveaway from every LuLaRoe page I follow.  I am, put simply, obsessed.   Just like books, a lot of my friends are interested in LuLaRoe, too.  Some are discovering it along with me; others are long-time supporters.  We talk about what our favorite styles and patterns are, and what our “unicorns” might be.  Most of my time on social media has been spent scrolling through pages of styles and patterns, clicking on different outfit combinations and entering giveaways.  I’ve been to open houses and brought family and friends along with me.  I was on a retail therapy high, both from what I bought and what I hadn’t.

A group of my friends and I were talking on Facebook about how cute and fun the fabrics of LuLaRoe are, in such a fashion, when someone else interjected that she didn’t find the clothing–and the leggings in particular–that great, and preferred other pairs she could find cheaper elsewhere.

Let me start by saying that this a totally legitimate and normal opinion.  The clothing isn’t cheap, like I mentioned, and not everyone is satisfied by the sizing options and pattern choices.  Many people have said that LuLaRoe fits the style and personality of teachers and librarians, and many people say the color choices are too wild for them.  I, the librarian, find it perfect for my personal preferences.  Other people in other professions and with other fashion tastes may not, and that’s totally okay.

I know all of this, and yet my immediate reaction to this person’s comment was anger.  There were five or six of us with similar opinions, sharing in something positive, and she chose to interject with, “Actually, what all of you find so interesting, really isn’t that great.”

I felt a little attacked and belittled for my excitement, which I had shared on my own page and with no ill-will toward those who disagreed.   My purpose was to express my happiness over owning a piece of clothing that sported my favorite animal (giraffes!).  Moreover, this person and I aren’t close at all–I actually had to think about how I knew her after I saw her name in my notifications.  While the people I had been exchanging excited comments with are good friends of mine and each other, she was an outsider entering in to a comrade-focused discussion.  Yes, it was public, but I had not intended for it to be a sounding board.  And again, I don’t care that people disagree with me, but it bothered me that this person took it upon herself to disagree with me in a space that wasn’t seeking to debate.

After giving my husband a long list of potential (not-so-nice) comebacks that I would never actually share with this person, I started to calm down and think through the situation more slowly.  Our conversation had been completely normal, but my reaction had been to be hurt.  This thing I had been celebrating was suddenly threatened, and I didn’t know why I felt so badly about it.

Then, it kind of hit me, and I wasn’t so surprised.

This negative reaction to a positive conversation was the same thing I had been reading and witnessing on every social media site I had seen in the last six months.  Nearly every post has been politically charged, and those who react to it are from divided sides and fighting for their voice on the issues.  People are vicious with each other, spouting their opinions everywhere in violent and inappropriate ways.  The problem isn’t that we are expressing ourselves and our opinions on social media.  I have seen very kindhearted and thoughtful people attempt to post or talk about an issue they value personally, and in response people call them names, insult their integrity, and question their humanity–and that’s when they are trying not to be rude.

And here’s the thing–the attacks aren’t just related to politics and recent governmental changes.  Simply posting any sort of sentiment, opinion, or perspective about yourself or others leaves you vulnerable to violent contradictions from others.

I fully admit to being sucked into the comments sections of way too many posts, where I see members of communities on both sides attacking each other in ways that are, put simply, disgraceful.  My heart has grown heavy with the knowledge that we have stopped listening to each other and insist on spouting our own opinions and values over and atop those we disagree with.  We have people in leadership positions refusing to hear what constituents with different opinions have to say.

I have often found myself on Facebook, just wishing people would listen to one another before responding.  Those who actually would do this, and would try to find some common ground from which to then debate, were equally attacked for their methods.  The language used has little to do with the actual position or evidence provided by the person who started the conversation; we have resorted to shameful, disgusting, personalized hate-words.  People are fully entitled to their opinions, but the current situation has gotten out of hand, and I don’t want to put up with it anymore.

As I said, way back at the beginning, I often find myself participating in retail therapy.  And that’s what this situation was.  I found myself buying things from LuLaRoe and knowing that it was helping me cope with something, but not really understanding how or why it was helping me, or why I was seeking it out repeatedly.  At least, not until my retail therapy got its wake-up call.  When negativity showed up in my LuLaRoe space, I realized that my shopping had been insulating me from all of the crap public culture is currently dishing out.

I’m not saying that retail therapy and LuLaRoe Facebook groups are a healthy way to deal with negative or depressed thoughts and emotions associated with social media, politics, and relationships.  I’m also not saying it’s my only method of choice.  I have been investing more deeply in my faith and Scripture over the last month than I have since I graduated from my undergrad.  I have been reading deeply and broadly, challenging myself to understand present issues from perspectives other than my own.  I have taken time with family and invested more and more in my relationship with my husband.  I have played with my kitties and unplugged for awhile.  I’m not saying any of these methods are perfect, or that I carry them out perfectly, even as they help me cope.

What I am saying is that the “untouchable,” “invincible” feeling social media gives us is extraordinarily dangerous.  It is so easy to forget that there is another person on the other side of that screen, and that what you can say can really hurt them.  This issue has been real and present since the origin of social media.  I mean, look at what Zuckerberg first created Facebook to be!  And yet, recent political issues and divisions have amplified the (I mean, let’s call it what it is) cyberbullying we see everywhere.

I’m not calling my own experience cyberbullying (although I do still wish this person’s indifference to LuLaRoe had not interrupted a rather fun discussion in favor of the products).  Now I’m talking about what my LuLaRoe addiction helps me escape.  I love social media, because it’s often my main tool of communication with so many people who are important to me.  And I think we are entitled to share our beliefs and opinions there, as well.  But there is a graceful, healthy way to do so.  And the constant barrage of negativity toward one another has to stop.  Hatred is running rampant, and while we quickly spot it in those we disagree with, we are less willing to admit when we find it in ourselves.

I want everyone I interact with to know that my opinions are presented for my own understanding of myself, and not to attack someone else’s worldview.  I also want people to realize that, when they share opinions I don’t agree with, I don’t see it as an attack on me (unless they wanted to hurt me).  I want to be intentional about not invading people’s “positivity” spaces with my dissenting perspectives.  We need to give people room to be happy about what they believe in and enjoy, and who am I to interrupt that?  Moreover, when I debate with someone or disagree with them, I want to have an honest conversation in which we exchange ideas civilly and appropriately.  In those cases, I want our words to come from a place of love, or at least mutual respect.  And, should my views offend someone, I want to apologize to them even as I seek to stand my ground on what I believe.

To my many, many friends and family who have already helped me to carry these sentiments out, I am grateful to you.  For those who have challenged me and held me accountable to the same standards, I thank you.

I’m not going to be perfect at this, and for that I apologize ahead of time.  But I’m ready to do what I can.  And, just as I refuse to let Spiritual challenges break my faith, I refuse to let the haters ruin my Facebook.

So, if you need me, I’ll be shopping for XXS Carlys.

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Read. Learn. Repeat.

This weekend, I finished listening to John Elder Robison’s Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening.  This is the second book I’ve read by Robison, the first of which was Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s.

Switched On recounts Robison’s experience in a study that looked at his brain’s reaction to Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).  As someone with a disorder listed on the Autism Spectrum, he had always struggled with understanding and expressing emotions.  This treatment was designed to get him “in touch with his emotional side,” so to speak.  He had a positive, though not “cured,” reaction to this treatment, which is perhaps evidenced best by the fact that he reads his own audiobook with a certain level of inflection and intonation you would not expect from someone with Asperger’s.

This book was a stretch for me, which is why I chose to listen to it on audiobook.  The language was extremely technical, as Robison himself is most comfortable in the world of machines and electronics.  He compared his brain experience to his work in the music industry, which was interesting although impossible for me to understand.  Some of the technical jargon and scientific language was also difficult to follow.  While at times I worried this would detract from my understanding of what the memoir was trying to say, however, in the end I felt like I connected to Robison at the point where his voice took us.  The overarching message and story was very engaging and emotionally charged, as Robison expresses for the first time what it feels like to “feel” like other people do.

I personally take as many opportunities as I can to learn more about people on the Autism Spectrum.  The way they perceive the world is fascinating to me, and I want to know more about what struggles and obstacles they may be facing.  I think that we should all take advantage of opportunities to learn about people who are different.  We may never be able to understand everyone in every situation, but we can take small steps toward discovering the way the world looks to others.  For me, that sometimes means trudging through rather scientific memoirs on topics I don’t understand.  At the end of his story, Robison made me appreciate what he has gained from science’s assistance in his life; I can also understand his optimism toward future discoveries.  These are developments I don’t need for myself, but that I can rally behind and support for other people.

I’m in no way insinuating that I’m good at this all of the time, either.  In fact, I’m hardly good at it some of the time.  I really like reading books where the protagonist is just like me.  I want it to be easy to relate, and to feel like not only do I understand “her” (it’s usually a her), but also that we understand each other.

Still, reading is a wonderful opportunity to explore how others live.  That’s what we praise it for–we want to go to other lives in other worlds.  Stories like John Elder Robison’s offer people like me the perfect opportunity to do just that.

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The Week of the Two Memoirs

I love memoirs.  There’s something about reading about the human existence from a first-person perspective that can change the way you see the world.  I like reading essays written by people I’ve heard of, but I also like reading creative nonfiction on topics I want to know more about.

Thus, this week I listened to the audiobook version of Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging by Dick Van Dyke (read by the Man Himself), and I finished reading Boy Erased by Garrard Conley.

 

Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging

It’s easy to bash on celebrity memoirs, because they are often full of phrases like, “I did this,” or “I remember when so-and-so recognized me as such-and-such.”  They also tend to be laced with lower level writing quality and riddled with hidden underwriters.  However, I don’t think it’s right to fault someone for how he/she got his/her book deal until we’ve tried out the content.  In all honesty, I prefer poor writing over underwriting, because I find it to be more authentic.  Thus, as long as a book appears to have been written by the actual celebrity in question, and I have an appreciation for said celebrity, I’ll usually try reading the memoir.

So, of course, as a lifetime “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” fan, I wanted to see what Mr. Van Dyke had to say!

The best part of this book was having Van Dyke read it to me.  There’s an additional layer of authenticity added to a writer’s work when you have the opportunity to hear his own choice of inflection on each word, and that is certainly true of this one.  Each chapter in the book has a smattering of stories (reminiscent of the storytelling habits of most of our 80- to 90-year-old grandfathers), and having Van Dyke make the connections between those tales with his words and intonation made the story that much more enjoyable.  His humor was easier to spot (or hear), and you could glimpse his sincerity in the rare moments where he got serious to discuss Truth as he saw it.

This book, as may be evidenced by the title and the age of its author (91!) is mostly about old age and growing older.  While I, at 24, couldn’t really relate to the struggles of failing health, lost spouses, and children and grandchildren, I could appreciate the wisdom Van Dyke has gleaned over nearly a century of living.  He has many nuggets of knowledge tucked between his stories that shed significant light on life today.  While he never dove deep into philosophy, he often addressed the presence of the “Big Questions” of human existence.

I think my favorite part in the memoir was the chapter about What Really Matters, based on Van Dyke’s experience.  He discusses such topics as how unproductive and unhealthy “hate” is, and how much easier and better it is to “help.”  My favorite quote from the entire book is:

I read constantly, mostly theologians and philosophers.  Among those whose book I have turned to repeatedly are Soren Kierkegaard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Paul Tournier….The thing these writers have in common is that they mostly ask questions, either of themselves or others, but especially of those who claim to know all the answers.  Doubt shines through all of their writing, an unrelenting, resilient doubt that I relate to intellectually.  As I have grown older and, hopefully, wiser, I’ve come to see that there are no sure answers, only better questions–questions that get us closer to the truth about whatever it is we want or need to know.  Just knowing you don’t have the answers, in fact, is a recipe for humility, openness, acceptance, forgiveness, and an eagerness to learn–and these are all good things.

As a person of faith, this brief revelation speaks to me on a spiritual and intellectual level.  While I feel convictions about what I believe, I am most comfortable in environments that allow me to doubt and ask questions.  As someone who finds natural comfort in analysis, I prefer spaces in which nothing is known, so that I might posit my own ideas.  I am grateful to Van Dyke for sharing his own thoughts on this, and so boldly, as an important and significant reminder in this world’s current climate that none of us can surely know, and we can find comfort and understanding from that foundation.

Long story short, this is still just a celebrity memoir, but it is written and about a very significant member of American culture.  Van Dyke is a figurehead of many, if not most, of our childhoods, and his words deserve the reverence he has earned through the life that he is writing about.

 

Boy Erased

My experience with Conley’s story was entirely different than my experience with Van Dyke.  I had never heard of Garrard before I read about this book on Buzzfeed, and I actually selected this memoir to learn about its topic: conversion therapy.

In this book, Garrard Conley recounts his experience growing up gay in the South, and as a member of a devoutly Christian family.  He retells his story of coming out, sexual assault, and ultimately his exposure to Love in Action, an ex-gay therapy organization.  He recounts his experiences there, before, and afterward, and how these moments have impacted his life and his relationship with his family.

This book holds a special significance to me because, again, I am a person of faith.  I identify as Christian, although I hesitate to attach “Evangelical” to that anymore due to the way in which many people have warped the definition of that term to fit their political agendas in recent history.  I chose to read about someone who had taken part in conversion therapy because I wanted to understand what people of my faith have done–the damage to individuals and to the mission of Christ.  Despite my general association with the evangelical Christian establishment, I do not see homosexuality as an abomination or a choice.  Moreover, I see conversion therapy as a direct threat to the Gospel, and I think treating members of the LGBTQ community as sinners and outsiders is in direct contradiction to the cause of Jesus Christ.  However, most of my education on topics related to homosexuality and the Church have been one-sided, i.e. from the pulpit.  Thus, I have sought opportunities–like reading this book–to begin to understand the other side of this important issue.

That being said, Conley’s memoir resonated with me on a surreal level due to our similar backgrounds.  I have read reviews of his work that identified the text as too religious and riddled with biblical references that many didn’t understand or appreciate.  For me, however, these elements in Conley’s work gave me a connection to him I might not have had otherwise.  Each passage of Scripture he quotes, each reference he makes to a sermon or a statement by a church member, each prayer he prays, are phrases and statements I have heard and said in my own life.  In this way, his struggle was made more real to me.  I had little to fear in my upbringing as I heard these Scriptures and prayed these prayers; other than being a woman, I belonged in every way.  Conley, on the other hand, had everything to fear, and his references to Evangelical Christianity made that fear more palpable in my eyes.

I regret to say that, as much as I appreciated Conley’s story and ached for him in his struggles, I found his writing to be too elevated, and I felt like some of his accounts lacked real emotion.  I can understand why his writing may be in the style it is; he admires and respects excellent writers from throughout history, and his prose reflects that.  However, in a creative nonfiction way, he never reached a point where he tore into raw emotion.  He remained fairly reserved.  Again, I can understand why; this topic is so sensitive, so exposing, and as you see in the end the publishing of the book most likely ruined his father’s career.  In many ways it’s enough that he wrote the book.  However, the stories left me wishing I could sit down with him and have him tell them, like Van Dyke had, with his chosen inflections and enunciation.

That being said, the end of this book broke my heart.  Even in his reserved way of writing, Conley is revealing to his readers the reality of his situation now, after going through Love in Action.  In barest truth, he says:

I will open the LIA handbook, read a few sentences, and feel the old shame wash over me until I can no longer focus.  Once again, Smid’s voice will swallow my own before I have a chance to say anything.  I’ll face doubt, distrust my memories, spend hours trying to reconstruct scenes so charged with emotion they’ll seem impossible to pin down.  I’ll call my mother to ask for details, sit with her at a table and record her words, and nearly every time one of us will end up in tears.  My mother will apologize again and again.  I will try to comfort her, but I’ll fail, because all of it truly was as horrible as we remember it, and because it will never really go away, we will never be completely okay.  Our family will never be what it otherwise might have been.

And God.  I will not call on God at any point during this decade-long struggle.  Not because I want to keep God out of my life, but because His voice is no longer there.  What happened to me has made it impossible to speak with God, to believe in a version of Him that isn’t charged with self-loathing. My ex-gay therapists took him away from me, and no matter how many different churches I attend, I will feel the same dead weight in my chest.  I will feel the pang of a deep love now absent from my life.  I will continue to experiment with different denominations, different religions.  I will continue to search.  And even if I no longer believe in Hell, I will continue to struggle with the fear of it.  Perhaps one day I will hear His voice again.  Perhaps not.  It’s a sadness I deal with on a daily basis.

This is what leaves me angry.  Not with Garrard–heavens, not with Garrard.  With the people who claim to share my faith.  In an attempt to make someone look like our ideal model of a Christian, we have caused someone to lose his faith completely.

For all of those hurting like Garrard, I am sorry.  For everyone who has experienced pain at the hands of people who claim to preach love and forgiveness, I am sorry.  I am so sorry.

As I reached the end of this book, I realized this is a story we all should hear.  I knew from the beginning it was one I would benefit from learning, but now I recognize its even greater significance and purpose.  I don’t necessarily think everyone should try to read Conley’s book–after all, the writing is weighty at times, and I’m sure some people would have too hard of a time dealing with the graphic content at different points.  However, each person should seek out a story like his, and hear it firsthand or in writing.  Humanity as a whole needs to show more solidarity, and people who claim to have faith need to learn acceptance.  I feel blessed and broken to have experienced this memoir, and I’m proud to sing its praises in this setting.

 

As you can see, my memoir-reading spans the gamut.  This week’s exploration was particularly diverse, although each author landed on similar themes: Don’t hate, and demonstrate love.

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Best Books of 2016

 

This year, I made it through 125 books and audiobooks, which I’m pretty sure is a new record!  It was also a diverse year of reading for me, as I took on my second Pop Sugar Reading Challenge to broaden my tastes and habits.

As this crazy year comes to a close, I’m content to dwell on some of the best reading I had to accompany me through it.  They span the spectrum of children’s and “adult,” fiction and nonfiction, and I’m happy to share them with the world.

 

Ollie’s OdysseyOllie's Odyssey

William Joyce

What I loved most about this book was the way the story and the illustrations blended together so well.  The plot itself is fairly dark for a children’s book, but not inappropriate for younger children.  In fact, I have a theory that this book is meant to be read aloud to a child by an adult (or older sibling), because there are elements of the story that children will understand best, but there are other parts “mature” readers will pick up on as they read through it.  Ollie is the best friend every parent would want for their child, and even the villain has a story that people can understand.  I appreciated this book so much for the ways that Joyce applied eccentricities to a simple children’s story of the real-life love of their favorite toys.

 

UnhookedUnhooked

Lisa Maxwell

I love the original Peter Pan myth and legend, created for the stage by J. M. Barrie, and I also love the different ways people interpret that myth.  This book was my favorite adaptation of the year.  It’s not often that I enjoy an adaptation that messes with the good side and the bad side (I hope I’m not giving too much away there…), but this one does it well, and you experience great sympathy for the right characters at the right times.  Lisa Maxwell is an excellent author, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future!

 

The Female of the SpeciesThe Female of the Species

Mindy McGinnis

I’ve already gushed about this book in my last post, and I still haven’t said enough about it.  An easy-to-digest story this one isn’t.  McGinnis says a bunch of stuff you probably don’t want to hear about what happens (or, at least, could happen), in high school in such a way that we cannot ignore it.  Alex is the protagonist every present and previous victim needs to know she/he is not alone.  And we, the greater populace, should aspire to be the Alex to our friends who have suffered (although perhaps without the psychopathic violence…).

This story isn’t only worthy of school reading requirements with its treatment of sexual assault and date rape culture.  It’s also just brilliantly done.  You spend the second half of the book wondering how all these different situations could ever work out to be a good thing, and then BAM! McGinnis delivers the only possible ending that could tie everything together.  You don’t feel great about it, but you feel comfortable with the knowledge that she put it together in the method that works best.  Perfect for the teen reader and the thriller lover alike, Alex will have you guessing until the very end!

 

This is where it ends.jpgThis Is Where It Ends

Marieke Nijkamp

I read this book in a matter of hours on a Saturday.  The plot itself is a great page-turner.  I think I was most captivated by the idea that we would be witnessing this school shooting through the eyes of the shooter’s sister, along with a few other characters.  The perspectives that come from inside and outside the building, and even inside and outside the auditorium, give a plot that is at once well-rounded and scattered.  I was immediately drawn to the characters and their lives, and I was invested in how their stories would turn out.  I don’t think what Nijkamp describes is necessarily a realistic school shooting (if, of course, we want to admit to the “normalization” of this experience that makes us notice differences from actual situations).  Our shooter doesn’t act like someone on a spree, he has too much ammo, and it takes him far too long to be stopped.  Moreover, some of the deaths of different students are more from dramatic effect than for accurate representation.  However, the overall mood created in these instances does, in fact, create a better understanding of the atmosphere one might experience if put in that situation.  Another author who was unafraid to touch the social taboo and attempt to address real-life problems our culture must learn to acknowledge and attempt to overcome.

 

The girlsThe Girls

Emma Cline

This book is so dark and creepy, it made my skin crawl just reading about it.  I have to admit that, while I can’t stomach scary movies, I appreciate an occasional dark and frightening read, and this one did it for me this year.  I’m too young to really be aware of Charles Manson or the women who murdered in his name, so I was mainly intrigued by this book’s premise after learning about it.  After engaging in the story, I fell in love with the rest of it.  Evie’s plight is extreme, and I found myself empathizing and distrusting her at the same time.  As the story developed, I particularly appreciated the parallelisms between Evie’s past and present.  These elements complicate the message of the story and remind us that the behavior of these women are perhaps not so foreign to us after all.  Creepy as hell, but worth the chills!

Adulthood is a myth

 

Adulthood is a Myth

Sarah Andersen

I absolutely LOVE “Sarah’s Scribbles,” so I was totally stoked when I saw that she was coming out with a book (and I believe she’s officially signed a contract to publish another one soon!).  I read this collection in one sitting, as well, and I found it delightful.  It includes several of my favorites from the Sarah’s Scribbles Facebook page, along with several new stories.  As a twenty-something, I find the best way to cope with “adulting” is to laugh about it, and Sarah helps you do that it the best way possible.  I can’t wait to get the next collection!

 

 

 

milk and honeymilk and honey

rupi kaur

I don’t frequently read poetry, but this collection really spoke to me.  I think, like The Female of the Species, this is one young women should be exposed to, to remind them of where love and relationships can lead.  More importantly, this collection reminds young women where their strength comes from, and how powerful they are on their own.  In rupi’s own words,

“from now on i will say things like
you are resilient or you are extraordinary
not because i don’t think you’re pretty
but because you are so much more than that”

 

Finding Mr. BrightsideFinding Mr. Brightside

Jay Clark

I met Jay Clark and bought his book to show support for a local author.  Much to my surprise, I was immediately swept up in the story and carried away by the characters and the plot.  The writing is simple and funny, with some elegant twists and turns through the complex relationships it reveals.  The romance feels not only possible, but real, which isn’t often something I say about a teen love story.  But you want to situation to work out for our lovebirds, and it isn’t handed on a silver platter.  Now, I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to speak with Jay about his writing, and I can’t wait to pick up his first novel, The Education of Jay Baker.

 

Reason I JumpThe Reason I Jump

Naoki Higashida

I have been interested in the Autism Spectrum ever since I studied the disability deeply in a training course I took for writing center work.  When I found this book, written by someone with autism, I couldn’t wait to read it.  Naoki’s simple expressions of his feelings and experiences are eye-opening.  The target audience is parents of people who are on the spectrum, but I think anyone who wants to understand how others think might enjoy diving in to this thirteen-year-old’s brain.

 

Where Am I NowWhere Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame

Mara Wilson

Other than having seen “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Matilda,” and finding her on Twitter, I didn’t know much about Mara.  However, after reading this book, I feel like she could be one of my best friends.  She’s extremely honest about her experiences growing up, both within and outside Hollywood.  She speaks to issues all young women have experienced, and even some of her unique encounters speak to me due to how we were interested in similar things when we were younger.  I also appreciated that this book did not read like a traditional celebrity memoir.  Mara isn’t trying to draw connections to her readers by speaking around her personal experiences.  Rather, she says what actually happened, and then expects you to make those connections yourself.  I felt like she was just talking with me, rather than trying to explain herself.  A great storyteller with a well-developed voice for prose.  Even those with no knowledge, appreciation, or understanding of Mara’s career would enjoy her book!

 

As I mentioned, this year was a diverse series of books from my Pop Sugar challenge.  I ended up reading some books I greatly disliked, including some highly popular bestsellers that simply didn’t speak to me personally.  Reflecting on these Top 10 Best, however, reminds me of what a great year in reading it was, and how much I can’t wait to take on the 2017 Reading Challenge for next year.

Happy New Year, and Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

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Hello, World! A Fresh Start

Hello, WordPress world!  It’s been far too long since I began this blog, and it’s time to revisit it.  I will be making a greater effort to post about reading, books, the world of libraries and the world of bookstores.  I’m excited to enter into this venture, and I can’t wait to see where it goes!  Thanks for checking in!

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