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60 Hours! And Book 10: The Office of Mercy

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I’m way behind right now.

I’m behind both in that I am not nearly on track for the book-a-week thing I was aiming for when I started this project (thanks, 1Q84) and behind in that I finished The Office of Mercy about a month ago. Oops. Sorry. I’ve been busy.

See, the thing is, I work full-time at a candy store. One of those little, local, mom-and-pop everything-is-made-there types of candy stores. And I love it. I absofreakinlutely love my job. People sometimes look at me funny, because I went to college and got a degree and I’m pretty darn smart, so they think I’m crazy and/or lying when I talk about how much I love my job. Like I’m supposed to hate it just because it’s retail and therefore not a “serious grown-up job.” But I really do love it. I love the people I work with. I believe in the product we sell (I mean, who doesn’t believe in amazingly good, locally made, fair trade chocolate?). I love being able to discuss book 5 of the Song of Ice and Fire series with the store manager and the guy who signs my paychecks (though not well, since they both just finished it and it’s been a few years for me). So, if my boss says I can go in early, I do, not because I want a slightly bigger paycheck, but because I really love being there and feel good putting in a little extra to help the company out. And if they need someone to stay late, if I’m available, I’m there.

What I’m trying to say here is, basically, that with Easter being tomorrow and me working the job that I do and loving it as I do, I’ve been working a lot. A whole lot. I’ve had one day off in April so far, and I spent it apartment hunting–not relaxing. Exciting, but not relaxing.

And I just got home from the first 60 hour week I’ve ever worked. And I went a little insane from the sleep deprivation/amount of caffeine I was consuming in order to function fully. Mike went to get food last night and when he got home, he found me curled up on the couch crying over fictional characters because, well, sometimes when you’re really really tired and crashing from the caffeine you had that day and you see a picture of Rose Tyler or Kevin Tran, you just “can’t even.”

I may never work a 60 hour week again. I don’t know exactly where my life is headed from here–Mike and I are moving quite far away for his new job this summer, so I won’t have another holiday season at the candy store. And I’m sad about that, because it really is a lot of fun. We stayed open a little late today to let the stragglers get their last-minute stuff–I mean, if we can stay open, I’d feel bad depriving some kid of his chocolate bunny, you know?– and they absolutely did not believe us that we weren’t itching to get home/did not resent them for coming in so late. We were standing behind the counter like, no, we’re good, really. We love being here. And they said, no, we’re in the business (retail, I guess?), we know how it is. And my boss and I just kind of looked at each other, like, why does no one ever believe us?

Anyway, the point I’m trying to get across here is this: When I’ve been home over the past month or so, I haven’t really had much energy left, so I haven’t been writing. And, sadly, I haven’t been reading much, either. My brain is kind of tired. I have a few days off next week, though! So I can catch up a little.

I picked up The Office of Mercy on an impulse in my local bookstore. There’s this one person who works there whose staff picks are always amazing. “Ryan.” I had been looking over some of Ryan’s recommendations, and I’d followed a few and they had always been great, so when I saw this I grabbed it without a second thought. I had one of those staff-picks-brain-crushes on this Ryan person. So when the cute female cashier told me that she had just finished this book, I said something like, “Oh, yeah, well Ryan’s recommendations are always great so I had to pick it up.” And I’m really glad I didn’t use a gender pronoun, because she then says, “Oh, I’m Ryan!” And I suddenly felt extremely awkward and was glad I hadn’t mentioned my crush.

I’m struggling with how to categorize The Office of Mercy. It’s a dystopia, and I wouldn’t quite call it YA, but it’s definitely bordering on YA. YA-adjacent. Natasha, our protagonist, lives in America-5, one of numerous large underground communities that were built after a devastating apocalyptic event that destroyed most of Earth’s population called The Storm. She has been working at her dream job in the Office of Mercy in her community for a few years now, but she has doubts about the work they do “granting mercy” to surviving tribes of the Storm–and (small spoiler) as you learn very early on in the book, “granting mercy” means “killing with bombs.” She has been taught from a young age that life outside the America-5 is too horrible to be worth living–too filled with disease, hunger, loss, and suffering, and that it is cruel to force them to continue to live in these conditions, but there isn’t any way for their community to sustain potential additions to their population–and besides, the people of the tribes are barely even people compared to them. They’re more like animals. Death is the only way. Natasha’s doubts are understandable, but what will she find when she goes outside?

And I want to say, “holy crap this book was amazing!” Because I liked it. I really did, I enjoyed reading it, and I liked having a 24 year old female protagonist instead of a 16 year old female protagonist, mostly because I can’t quite identify with a 16 year old female protagonist simply because I’d feel really weird saying I identify strongly with a fictional 16 year old. But The Office of Mercy didn’t quite pull me in the way other dystopias have. There were a few spoileriffic things that bugged me, and I’ll get into those spoilers now, so if you don’t like spoilers, stop reading here.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about The Office of Mercy that made it not quite click for me. I’ve read a bunch of YA Dystopian Lit, and I’ve always really liked it, but it’s not like there’s ever a series that doesn’t have at least a couple of things that bother me. I’m not going to get into details because no one deserves to have things spoiled that aren’t even the things they mean to be reading about, but it’s not like I thought the Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, the Matched series, the Uglies series… hot damn, I read a lot of YA Dystopian stuff. Anyway, it’s not like I found them all to be flawless. So I have a few ideas:

1. Maybe I’ve read too much dystopian lit. The current trend is at least somewhat formulaic, so I find most of the book pretty predictable, and then by the time I get to the end, the big twist that makes it different from the rest stops being “Wow, I never saw that coming!” and becomes “Oh, there’s the twist they threw in to make their stand out from the pack.” In The Office of Mercy, I liked the big twist ending/”thing the author did differently” a lot. The society wins. The society’s never won before that I know of–it’s always basically a story about how a teenage girl successfully leads a rebellion. But Natasha isn’t a teenager, and her attempts at rebellion are unsuccessful. And not only does society win, but they win her. By the end, she absolutely believes that she’s doing the right thing when she blows up her erstwhile allies. And I liked that. I thought it was really cool and different. But by the time I got there, I still wasn’t quite hooked enough to… care, I guess.

2. Perhaps it was too short. Everything I listed up there was at least a trilogy, so maybe adding some bits and drawing it out longer would have given me more time to get fully absorbed in the story. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have. Maybe I just would have been annoyed because it’s not like I’m going to leave a series unfinished, but god this one is boring. I don’t know.

3. It might have been entirely that the romance sideplot pissed me off. Natasha’s love interest, Jeffrey Montague (yes, Montague, I rolled my eyes so hard) is two generations older than her. She’s 24, he’s 43. At the beginning, I got the sense that she was reading too much into a relationship that he saw more as a father-daughter type friendship–it was clear that he was a mentor of sorts. But then when he eventually returns her affections, it made me uncomfortable, especially when you find out that he saved her from a sweep and brought her in to the community. And, okay, I didn’t just roll my eyes at the last name. I actually stopped reading and found a pen and wrote down in my reading journal: “I’m really, really mad that Jeffrey’s last name is Montague.”

4. It could have been the numerous things that didn’t quite make sense. They were eventually explained, but I spent too long being bothered by them to have enjoyed the book as much as I could have. For example, no one is born. No one has kids, no one has parents. When the government decides that they’re ready to support it, they artificially create a new generation of babies in a lab. So why do they have last names, and why are their names so race-specific? Like Raj Radhakrish–that is clearly not a name that was randomly selected from the same pool as Jeffrey Montague. And it eventually explains that people are given names that are associated with the primary ethnicity of their genetic makeup in order to keep culture alive or something, but that just seemed kind of flimsy, like someone was reading the book and said “hey why do these people have such racial names or even have last names at all?” and the author made something up and threw in a line to explain it because she liked the names she had come up with.

5. Possibly, the stakes just didn’t seem high enough. Even when Natasha’s personal ties to the tribes were explained, and this is where I think it could have used some expansion, I didn’t feel her personal fire. I felt a general desire to fight for something and not the burning need for revenge. And maybe that’s why she doesn’t win. Maybe she doesn’t get invested enough, doesn’t get a chance to spend any time with her tribe family before they betray her trust, and America-5 just has too easy a time writing over her brief moments of “oh, look, relatives!” because of that.

And I know I sound dumb bitching about all these things and then saying, “No, really, I liked it!” But I did. I just didn’t love it the way that I was hoping to.

END SPOILERS!

So, would I recommend this book? It depends. If you’re fairly new to the dystopian lit genre but liking it a lot so far, then yes, I would, as long as you can let a few minor details wash over you. If you’ve read a lot of dystopian lit and love the formula, then yes absolutely! If you’ve read dystopian lit and are starting to get over it, then this maybe isn’t the book for you–it won’t surprise you until it’s too late for you to care. (Wow, do I sound like an asshole now? I feel like an asshole. Whatever, I’m tired.)

ANYWAY! Onto bigger and better books. Next up will be the review for 1Q84, volume 3, which means my reflections on the book as a whole! And after that, look forward to my post about China Mieville’s Railsea. I know I am.

See you soon!

Middles, and Book 9: 1Q84 vol. 2

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I finished book 10, so I suppose I should get around to my book 9 write-up, huh? I must say, I’m really glad I got pretty ahead in January! 1Q84 definitely takes up a lot of time.

So, here’s the problem, and the reason I haven’t gotten this post up sooner: I cannot for the life of me figure out how to write a review of the middle third of a book.

As I mentioned in my previous 1Q84 post, though it looks like a trilogy if you’re not paying attention, it is most definitely one book published as three volumes, presumably to make it seem a little less intimidating, though if a big book is going to intimidate you then you may not be the target audience for this book.

Middles are awkward to begin with. You’ve got middle school (ugh!). Midlife crisis. Middle child. Middle management. Middle-of-the-road. None of these stand out as even remotely good (at best, they’re kind of…middling). Even the middle book of a series usually isn’t the best. I mean, who didn’t want to pry their eyes out with a spork during the Entmoot in The Two Towers? Did anyone else roll their eyes when, in Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta go to the Hunger Games… again? Or get just a teensy bit fed up with Harry’s whining in Goblet of Fire? Hell, even Jingo, the fourth and middle book in Terry Pratchett’s City Watch subseries (in the Discworld series) is my least favorite of those, though it does have some great moments. (At least, it’s currently the middle. I doubt he has plans to publish more of those, though; Snuff seemed to tie everything up nicely.)

Despite what you learn in middle school, plots look nothing like this:

I mean, why would they? If they did, then once you’ve gotten to the middle, you’d know it was only going to get less exciting from there and you’d probably stop reading, or at least be bored. Really, plots look like this:

I chose this one because (a) it’s accurate, and (b) the blogger who made it then used it as a template to draw a Plot Dinosaur. Click the picture to go to her post.

So when you’re in the middle of the book, you get neither the potentially deadly tip of the tail nor the super exciting top of the head. You just get a couple of the defensive spikes/plates along the back.

Middles: They’re the worst. Spread the word.

 

All that being said, volume 2 of 1Q84 was actually very exciting. Things start to take shape. On page 561, I felt that the story actually, really started, for serious this time, and everything I’d read so far was absolutely necessary information for me to understand the story. Over 500 pages of backstory. Brilliantly written, fascinating, awesome backstory, but backstory.

So, despite my professed hatred for middles, volume 2 was better than volume 1. And I can’t wait for volume 3! I’ll be starting that today. I had to take a little time off, otherwise I would have begun to forget what was the real world and what was the book (I have a weird habit of confusing reality with speculative fiction).

I need to share this quote. I loved this quote. I loved it so much I wrote it down at like 2am, despite being almost falling asleep:

“If a certain belief–call it ‘Belief A’– makes the life of that man or this woman appear to be something of deep meaning, then for them Belief A is the truth. If Belief B makes their lives appear to be powerless and puny, then Belief B turns out to be a falsehood. [...] It means nothing to them that Belief B might be logical or provable.”

The character who’s speaking is talking about religion, if that’s not obvious, but I can’t help but feel that it applies equally to art and stories. I think, if a story is really, truly loved, it’s because there’s an element of belief there between reader, viewer, listener, or what have you, and story. That story gets at an important emotional truth for its consumer. It’s why, if you’re a Doctor Who fan and you hear the TARDIS, you start looking around, because you just can’t turn off that little thing in your head that says the Doctor is real, because the Doctor would believe absolutely and 100% that you matter, that you are important, and you need that to be true. (I’d apologize for making this post about Doctor Who, but I’m not sorry. It’s my blog and I needed an example.)

Anyway, the problem with middles isn’t necessarily that they’re bad. It’s just that they’re hard to talk about out of context. And I don’t have the context to talk much more about this without just summarizing what happened (boring), so I’ll be back with more about 1Q84 later on.

But first! Book 10! I’ll get Book 10′s post up as soon as I can–hopefully within the next couple of days. I read The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian.

Do you have any examples of stories that hold emotional truth for you? What are they? Share in the comments!

Book Clubs, My Awesome Brother, and Book 8: The Yellow Birds

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Last summer kind of sucked for me.

Don’t get me wrong–it could have been much worse than it was, and I’m grateful that my crappy summer is relatively mild in comparison to some people’s crappy summers. I had a manager at work making my life miserable–barely putting me on the schedule, and treating me like shit when I was there. All my good friends live over an hour away. It was too hot to really go out and do anything for much of the summer, so I ended up cooped up in my house watching Netflix and being bored and lonely for most of it.

So in August, I joined a book club. Now, from what I hear, most women in their mid-20s who “join a book club” are actually doing something more like “drinking wine without having read the book” (and, eventually, abandoning the pretense of “the book” altogether). Not this one. This book club is run by and meets at the local independent bookstore. When I went to my first meeting–which, conveniently, was the “let’s decide which books we’ll be reading for the next year” meeting, I was probably half the age of the second youngest person there. This thrilled me. While there was some hope that I would meet new friends around my age, I was mostly looking for something that would (a) get me out of the house, and (b) get me reading and discussing new stuff. Everyone there was clearly passionate about books–it wasn’t a “Well, I don’t really read ever, so I should join a book club and maybe that will make me like it more” situation. We talked for about two hours about what we should read and eventually came up with a list for the year.

When I went the next month, there was actually someone else around my age! I was so excited. We became friends and hung out, but then she moved over an hour away. Apparently, no one I like can stand to live within an hour of me. (Am I clingy? Do I smother? What’s the deal?) And this month, there were a few new people around my age.

So, friends, maybe! Yay. But the point here is, that’s not the point. The point is to go and read something that you would normally never have picked up and discuss it with people who love books as much as you do. I was thinking that, when I move in July, I should start a book club for fantasy and science fiction. Now, I wouldn’t want to do that without also joining one for stuff I’d never read on my own.

For example, this month’s book was The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, which is about two young soldiers in the Iraq war. I would never, ever have picked that up, particularly right now, because my brother is overseas. I was actually nervous about reading it, even for book club, because there was a fear that it might hit too close to home and freak me out. It didn’t. I don’t believe that what he’s doing is anything like what the soldiers in The Yellow Birds are doing.

But I need to pause for a minute and tell you about how awesome my brother is. I feel like not enough people appreciate their siblings. While we’re not the Winchesters, my brother and I have always been close. I can’t remember a single instance in my life when we’ve gotten into a fight, though he insists that one of his earliest memories is of punching me and getting in trouble for it. (My mom doesn’t remember this, though, so I’m not sure it happened.) As the Older Sibling (by under two years), I was apparently supposed to be the leader, but since I’m much more introverted and a high social monitor, he was generally in charge of what we did (I didn’t always care for girly stuff, anyway). So I’ve got a lot of childhood memories of playing video games, climbing trees, melting green army men with magnifying glasses to make little plastic balls, you know… that type of thing.

The first time I ever heard of someone not liking my brother, he was a junior in college and it blew my mind. I still don’t really get it. He’s one of those guys who’s really good at pretty much everything, but he’s got the exact right type of personality to make it impossible to resent him for it.

Okay, anyway, it’s time to unpause and talk about The Yellow Birds.

Kevin Powers is an Iraq war veteran with an MFA in Creative Writing. He’s won awards for his poetry, and when you read this book, you’re not remotely surprised. It reads like poetry. There were sections that I had to read out loud a few times–at first, because the language was highly symbolic and I wasn’t quite sure what just happened, and then just because it was so beautiful that I wanted to read it again. (And because of this, I can guarantee that your cat will like this book.)

The book follows Privates Bartle and Murphy. Bartle narrates; Murphy dies. It’s not really a spoiler because Bartle tells you it’s going to happen within the first couple of pages and, let’s be honest, you’ve got a war novel following two young soldiers and one of them’s the narrator? Better not get too attached to the other one. (The people in book club who missed the “I survived; Murphy didn’t” sentence very early on reported being very confused by the book, so it’s important to know.)

Bartle’s narration is written from his perspective after he’s been back for a few years. It’s disjointed, like memory. It starts in Iraq, then goes to right after when they’re on their way home, then goes back to Iraq, then training, then long after, then back to Iraq. All the Iraq bits are chronological, and all the after bits are chronological, so it’s still easy to follow what’s going on.

When they deploy, Murphy’s mother makes Bartle promise to bring Murphy home. Bartle, only a few years older and the same rank, doesn’t really know what to do, so he promises, even though that’s not a burden he wants to carry. But from that moment, they’re bound, and Bartle fails.

What I thought was most interesting about this book was Bartle when he gets back. He doesn’t want anyone to thank him for what he’s done, or give him discounts, or treat him like a hero at all. He wants to be left alone. Now, granted, he definitely had PTSD, and he fell apart for a bit. But we talked about that at book club, and someone mentioned a show on NPR, I think, with a bunch of veteran authors or something who said the same thing. We don’t like what we did, don’t thank us, just let us go on with our lives. Now, I know this isn’t always the case. If I were to guess, I would say it probably has to do with whether they saw combat or they were doing something else. The Yellow Birds does not paint a pretty picture of combat, and if I were Bartle, I wouldn’t want thanks, either.

Another question we discussed at book club: Is it an anti-war novel simply because it’s a realistic portrayal of what happens? I don’t know. If you’ve read it, let me know what you think.

If you haven’t read The Yellow Birds and decide to, please read it carefully. Pay close attention to imagery. Notice the water. Look up Sterling’s Judges reference if you don’t get it. Read paragraphs out loud if they’re confusing (or just beautiful). Remember, Powers is a poet. You’ll miss out on a lot if you don’t read it closely. And it’s worth it.

 

And, for Book 9…1Q84 volume 2, as I mentioned in my last post. I’m already done with that, since I read them at the same time, so that post will be up soon, which means…

For book 10, I’m reading The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian! It’s a post-apocalypse type book, very enjoyable so far.

See you soon!

Cheating, and Book 7: 1Q84 vol. 1

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I’m feeling conflicted about how I’m categorizing 1Q84 for this project.

When I started reading it, I was not yet entirely sure what I was getting myself into. Mostly, I was unsure whether I was about to start reading one book or three books. See, it comes in this fancy little three volume boxed set, and prior to starting it, I had heard it referred to as both a book and a series. The word “volume” made me think single book, but then I remembered that I’ve definitely read or heard of other series that referred to each book as a volume, particularly comic books/graphic novels, particularly magna. (Of course, I could be mixing this up a bit, since I’m not really familiar with magna, but I seem to remember seeing “volume 1″ on the sides of them in the comic book store instead of “book 1.”) So basically, that thought process led me to figure that the words “book” and “volume” in the way I’m using them here might be translated from the same word or something, and it’s a series. But then I thought, Wouldn’t each book at least have its own title? Like, each book in the Lord of the Rings series has its own title. Same with literally any other series. But of course, while that’s almost always true with books, it’s not with everything–Iron Man 1, 2, and 3 are all individual, stand-alone movies that happen to work well in a series. Maybe it’s like that.

Well, now that I’ve finished volume 1, I can definitively tell you: It’s not like that. Volume 2 doesn’t even start on page 1; it picks up right at page 391. Which means I’m definitely cheating by counting it as its own book.

Now, if this were like the Hunger Games series, and I read the entire three “books” in one weekend, I wouldn’t cheat. I’d suck it up and call it one book, because that’s what it is. But given that volume 1 took me two weeks to read–I finished it on Thursday–I’m going to go with an “It’s not really cheating since I made the rules to begin with” cop-out here. Volume 2 is slightly shorter; volume 3 is slightly longer. Even counting each as an individual book, I’m glad I have a few YA books on my to read list so I can catch up after finishing 1Q84.

So now, I’m at this awkward place where I’d love to write a review of 1Q84 volume 1, but how does one write a review of the first third of a book? I’m still not even sure what’s happening!

Here’s what I’ll tell you. I’m really, really enjoying 1Q84. It’s fascinating, and that’s why it’s taking me so long. I’ve read so many books in my life that, as soon as I pick them up, I am unable to put them down, and I fly through them and love every second. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is also absolutely nothing wrong with how 1Q84 is working for me, which is the complete opposite–I am unable to not put it down. It’s completely messing with my reading habits. For example, usually, I will read on my lunch break. I’ll heat up my food or go get my food and spend the rest of the break reading and eating. Now, though, I heat up or go get my food, sit down with it, start eating, read a few pages, and spend the rest of the break staring into space thinking. This happens almost any time I pick it up when I’m not about to go to bed. I read a little bit, then I stop and think and process and wonder. I’m thinking about the book, about what’s happening and what’s going to happen and how everything is going to end up being connected. I’m looking at the real world, thinking about this book as a mirror of the real world, wondering how accurate it is, wondering how I would behave in the same situations as the characters. I’m sitting on my couch imagining what it would be like to look in the sky and see two moons.

I’m also thinking a lot about culture and cultural differences. It’s hard to place exactly what in the book that I’m seeing as different is a difference in culture and what is just a difference in writer, translator, or character. For example, the language in 1Q84 is incredibly precise. This was the first thing I noticed when I started reading it. Is that the author’s style? Or the translator’s? Or is Japanese just a much more precise language than English, and that carries over in the translation? Then, I’ve noticed that both of the main characters seem much more aware of their flaws and willing to discuss them openly and matter-of-factly with others than most people I know. If it were just one of them, I would think, oh, that’s just something this character does. But since it’s both, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a cultural difference that I’m not aware of, or, again, whether it’s the author.

So far, I am completely in love with this book. It is so different from anything I have ever read before. I’m completely wrapped up in its world, and I’m glad there’s a lot more to go–though I am slightly worried that, by the end, I’ll be unable to distinguish reality from 1Q84.

And now, Book 8 of the 50 Book Project will be….

…Um…

…I don’t actually know. I mean, obviously I’ve already picked up Volume 2 of 1Q84 and I’m working my way through that, but I also have to read The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers for my book club meeting at the beginning of March, which means I’m going to be reading two books simultaneously. I don’t know which I’ll finish first, so I don’t know what my next post will be.

Confession, and Book 6: The Giver

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I mentioned at the end of my last post that I had never read The Giver before. I’ve been meaning to get around to it since 6th grade (which may have had something to do with it being the 6th book I read for this project) when close friend told me it was her favorite book, but it just never happened, and I’m about to be completely, 100% honest with you about why.

I didn’t like the cover.

No matter how many amazing things I heard–good reviews, recommendations from friends, comparisons to other books that I loved–I couldn’t get past the cover. No matter how intrigued I felt from what I’d heard, looking at the cover immediately un-intrigued me.

Everyone knows you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. There’s a whole cliché surrounding this fact. But the truth is, we do it. I read an article a while back pointing out reasons that J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym’s book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, didn’t really sell until people found out she wrote it, and one of the main reasons listed is that the cover was wholly inappropriate for the content of the book. The cover of a mystery novel shouldn’t look all swirly and romantic.

Similarly, I feel that the cover of a YA Dystopia shouldn’t be some bearded old dude.

Don’t get me wrong–I understand the cover. Having now read the book, the cover makes perfect sense to me. Even the trees in the corner make sense now. I still believe, though, that there could be a better cover design. Maybe in a few years, they’ll release a 25th Anniversary Edition with something more captivating.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Anyway, I loved this book, and it’s definitely a must-read for any lover of dystopian literature, whether you’re a YA fan or not.

As I usually find with dystopian literature, when I started reading The Giver, I found that the world sounded, well, not bad at all. I liked the idea of the feelings talk after dinner; it seemed like it would make for some extremely well-adjusted children if it were done right. I liked the amount of ritual involved in growing up–the yearly ceremony where you “graduate” to the next age–and I think that’s something that we’re lacking in modern American society. There’s no real coming of age ritual, and I can’t help but wonder if there’s a connection between that lack and the amount of people in their 20s and 30s who don’t feel like “real adults.” I know I’m not the only one.

I also didn’t hate the idea of being assigned to a profession. It sounds horrible, especially since I think I’ve heard that that’s what they do in China and thinking that anything they do in China sounds like a good idea seems decidedly un-American. But right now, and I’m sure this is another thing that stems from me being in my mid-20s, I occasionally wish that someone would just figure all this shit out for me and I could be off the hook. Now, this definitely isn’t something that I really want–it just sounds nice once in a while.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

The world started seeming horrible when Jonas’s mother gave him a pill to control his “stirrings.” It made sense, of course–if no one wants to have sex, no one will beat the shit out of anyone for hooking up with the wrong person, and no one will murder any prostitutes, and the Trojan War won’t happen. But it just really don’t seem worth it to live with no passion, and this was the point where I could really tell how flat everyone’s feelings were. I also wondered (though not until later) why people had mates when they didn’t make the babies themselves and they didn’t experience any sort of sexual desire. It seemed like the need had been eliminated, but the practice stuck around out of, what, tradition? Nothing else in this world really seemed to exist because of tradition.

Then I got to the point where the Giver explains to Jonas that what he’s seeing is color, and I realize (a) why the cover is mostly black and white, and (b) that I think this world sucks more than the world in The Hunger Games.

I’d had a feeling from the beginning that being “released” either meant you were killed or you were set free into a world that would definitely kill you, but I would be surprised to learn that anyone reading the book thought, as Jonas did, that people went and lived elsewhere once released.

I’m curious as to whether people think Jonas lives at the end. After finishing, I’m about 99% sure that he started hallucinating and he and Gabriel both froze to death. I don’t think there’s an elsewhere. I wish I could be more optimistic, but this book doesn’t really instill that feeling in its readers. I didn’t have a great feeling from the minute they started planning the escape–it seemed a bit rushed and short-sighted. I also thought the Giver’s decision to help Jonas escape and free his memories was a bit sudden, and I would have liked to know more about why he changed his mind.

Now, has anyone read the rest of the quartet? Should I check it out? I feel like I’ve heard so much about The Giver, but never anything about the other books Lowry wrote, so I don’t know if this is really the only one worth reading or if I just haven’t heard about them. Let me know if you’ve read them!

And, for book seven:

1Q84 volume 1 by Haruki Murakami. I’m honestly not sure whether the entire 3 volume set should count as one book or three, but since it’s three volumes, it’ll be three books for this project.

Brain Crushes, and Book Five: Paper Towns

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Let’s discuss crushes.

I’m pretty sure everyone knows what a normal crush is like. A normal crush is what happens when you know someone and you really like them and want to hold hands with them or make out with them or go on a date with them. They make you feel all warm and fuzzy, and maybe your face turns red when they talk to you, or you momentarily forget how to speak English and when you remember your voice has drastically changed pitch. (Typically, if you’re female, your voice goes up a few notches unless you want to seem really chill and laid back in which case it might go down, and if you’re male it’ll usually go down a few notches unless you’re an actor on Supernatural in which case it’ll go down a whole lot of notches.)

Then there are celebrity crushes. They’re really, really hot, they make the best music or play the best character or have the best hair. They do interviews and talk about french fries (Jennifer Lawrence) and you just know that they’re the most down-to-earth perfect-for-you person and if only you could meet them. Or they do interviews and talk about respecting women (Tom Hiddleston) and they’re the most gentlemanly guys and if only you could meet someone just like that does he have a clone somewhere. Honestly, I don’t really know which celebrities most people have crushes on. I only know which celebrities The Internet has a crush on. I’m pretty sure there are also people who have crushes on d-bags like that guy who beat up Rihanna, and I honestly don’t know what the italicized thought process there is. I don’t. The point is, celebrity crushes are the unattainable and a bit silly and I’m sure there’s a reason we as humans get them, but I don’t know what it is.

I also believe in a type of crush that I call the “friend crush,” which is when you meet someone and you really want to be friends with them. I think this might be an adult thing. Once you’re out of school, it’s harder to meet people to be friends with, and more and more people are moving farther and farther away from their original friends, and so emerges the friend crush. You know people at work, but hanging out with them can be weird and sometimes complicate work dynamics if one of you is the other’s supervisor or boss. Maybe you meet people a few other places, but it’s hard and awkward to go from “in the same class at the gym” or “sells me coffee regularly” to “hanging out.” Hell, it’s hard enough to get from either of those places to “having conversations,” if you’re me. But there’s this big, ballsy “We should hang out sometime” that I find almost as stressful as I imagine “Do you want to get dinner sometime?” would be.

I think that brain crushes are the celebrity crush version of a friend crush. When I have a brain crush on someone, it’s usually someone whom I’m unlikely to ever meet unless I finish my book and get it published and it sells well and I’m invited to join John Green and Neil Gaiman for tea and scones because they’re both really curious about the person whose breakout novel outsold both of their new novels combined. (See what I mean by unattainable?) But, realistically: A brain crush is when there’s someone whom you’re unlikely to ever have coffee with, but you nevertheless really want to have coffee with them, because you really, really want to pick their brain about, well, everything. From “What are some of your favorite books?” to “Do you think it’s possible to achieve a Utopian society without completely sacrificing freedom? Why or why not? Discuss.” to “How delicious would it be if you used chili as pizza sauce?” with the natural follow-up, “Would you put any other toppings on it, or just leave it at chili and cheese?”

I have a brain crush on John Green. And I want to ask everyone reading this: Do you have a brain crush on someone? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. I’m telling you all about mine, and I think dishing about crushes is supposed to be a two-way street.

The coolest thing about having a brain crush on John Green is how involved he is with his fans and the internet in general. If you’re not familiar with his and his brother’s YouTube channel, vlogbrothers, you should go check it out. He talks about quite literally everything. (I’m using the British meaning of “quite” here, which means “somewhat” rather than “very.” Somewhat literally. So, you know, almost everything.) There’s a video where he discusses and explains health care costs in the US. There’s also a video where he jumps against a wall to try to find out if he’s an octopus missing four limbs, because obviously an octopus would stick to the wall. He’s active on Twitter and Tumblr and, overall, incredibly connected with his fan base. Which I think is just the coolest, and it makes me brain-crush that much harder.

Of course, I developed my brain crush on John Green through watching his YouTube channel before ever reading any of his books. This is how I first picked up Looking for Alaska expecting it to be light-hearted and fun and intellectually challenging, because that’s how John Green seemed to be, and I erroneously expected his writing to be a bit more like his YouTube videos. And, as I mentioned before, I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried. So I read a bit more about him, and learned that he’s just the kind of guy who breaks your heart with his writing, and I picked up An Abundance of Katherines, steeling myself for the eventual heartbreak, and, well, spoiler alert–there wasn’t one. It was fun and light-hearted and intellectual, but not sad.

I really had no idea what to expect when I picked up Paper Towns.

The “Profoundly Moving” on the cover didn’t make me feel very optimistic, though.

Neither did the fact that the book started with two nine-year-olds finding a dead body in a park and discovering that the man had committed suicide.

I think John Green remembers very well what it felt like to be a teenage boy. Of course, I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never been one, but when I read his books I feel like I kind of get it. The narrator of Paper Towns, Quentin (“Q”), presents himself fairly simply. At any point where he directly addresses what type of person he is, he doesn’t paint himself to be this complex, multi-dimensional, beyond anyone else’s understanding type of person. He presents himself as a pretty smart guy who’s looking forward to college and has a crush on this kind of crazy girl at school. And it’s weird, when something’s written in first person, to say there’s a difference between how the main character presents himself and how you end up seeing him, because everything you’re learning about him, he’s telling you. But here, there is. And part of it, I feel, is that he grows a whole lot over the course of the book–who doesn’t? But he also doesn’t give himself enough credit from the beginning, and you can tell. I think it’s so cool that you can tell. At the same time, Quentin’s descriptions of Margo Roth Spiegelman paint her as incredibly complex and impossible to understand. As the book goes on, you realize he’s wrong there, too. They kind of even out. Q isn’t as boring and simple as he seems to see himself as, and Margo isn’t some sort of incomprehensible goddess. They’re both just people.

Of course, that’s one of the major themes of this book. Everyone is a person, no more and no less. And we, since we’re human, have a really hard time understanding that. There are people we idealize, whom we put up on a pedestal and think must be some kind of incredibly complex, intelligent, creative, funny, and overall perfect creature, and by doing that, we kind of fail to acknowledge that they’re people. And then there’s the opposite, the people whom we just assume, maybe not even actively, are somehow less. Less complex, less human. And we’re all people, and we all have a hard time remembering that, I think. And I also think it’s really important to think about that after I just went on and on about my brain crush on the guy who’s making me think about this in the first place. I’m going to go ahead and classify that as irony.

Reading Paper Towns was a bit of a rollercoaster. I started it on Monday morning. I took notes until I got about 50 pages in, then I stopped taking notes because I couldn’t put the book down long enough to write down a thought because I really needed to know what was going to happen. I finished it late Monday night (technically Tuesday morning) and cursed a bit because I had meant to go to sleep nice and early but instead it was 2am and I was trying to remember what thoughts I had while reading so I could write them down so I could eventually write this post.

My brain while reading this book: SHE’S DEAD SHE KILLED HERSELF no they’re going to find her okay THEY’LL NEVER FIND HER AT ALL okay no she’s going to just show up like nothing NO SHE’S DEAD she’s gone forever SHE’S PERFECTLY SAFE no she’s definitely dead I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE.

And the ending still surprised me.

I went in with no expectations, so Paper Towns fulfilled every expectation I possibly could have had going in. I’m going to stop now, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I leave you with this quote from the book:

“IT IS NOT MY FAULT THAT MY PARENTS OWN THE WORLD’S LARGEST COLLECTION OF BLACK SANTAS.”

If you are even remotely interested in young adult literature, I highly recommend reading everything by John Green. Well, everything I’ve read so far. I’m waiting until right before I see the movie to read The Fault in Our Stars, because I have this thing where if there’s a book I need to nitpick, so even if I read it now I would end up re-reading it before I see the movie, and as much as I love re-reading books, I’d rather wait a bit longer between reads. So, look forward to TFiOS in May or June.

And, for book 6…

This isn’t a re-read. I have never read The Giver. I have been meaning to since sixth grade and it just never happened. So when I came across it for three dollars at a used bookstore, well, you know. I’ve already started it and I’m enjoying it thoroughly so far.

How did I become such a post-apocalyptic young adult literature fan without ever having read The Giver?

Winter Sick, and Book 4: This Immortal

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I’m going to warn you right now, this review is going to be awful.

I don’t mean negative–not at all. I mean the review itself is going to be crappy and unhelpful.

See, this book shouldn’t have taken me over a week. Not at all. It’s a fast-paced 213 pages. It should have taken me between 2 and 4 sittings. However, I spent about a week coming down with something, plus about two days being actually sick curled up in bed watching Dollhouse marathons on my tablet and trying to move as little as possible so I don’t throw up again.

All this adds up to a brain that isn’t working very well. I’m pretty sure there was a day that I fed the cats, crawled into bed, and asked Mike to feed the cats, and he told me that I had just fed the cats, and I absolutely didn’t believe him. That might have been a dream. I don’t even know. I know similar things happened. For example, I also asked my boss about something that she had hung on the wall that I swear I had never seen before, only to find out that she had pointed that out to me a while ago and we’d talked about it for 20 minutes or so.

And about halfway through my book, I realized that what the characters were doing didn’t make any sense, at which point I flipped through to the beginning and suddenly understood something awful. See, there are some characters who only really are referred to by their first name, and some who are only referred to by their last name, and the whole time I’d been reading, I’d been equating them. So halfway through, I realize there’s no Phil Myshtigo. There’s Phil, and there’s Myshtigo, and they are not remotely the same person.

After I got that cleared up, the book made a lot more sense and I finished the rest of it rather quickly.

This book takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth where most humans have escaped to live on other planets, where they cohabitate with an alien species called Vegans. (Another source of confusion to my sick-addled brain–I wasn’t quite sure why the characters all seemed to hate vegans so much. Were they really pushy vegans who wouldn’t let you enjoy your steak in peace?)

This Immortal straddles the line between Science Fiction and Fantasy, though in general, I would classify it more as SF and recommend it more highly to SF fans. I’m pretty sure I mused a bit in my review of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? about the differences, but reading This Immortal and thinking about how to classify it, I’ve come across something else that I’ve noticed. I find that most amazing fantasy that I read makes me feel, while most science fiction that I read makes me think. It’s an emotional vs. philosophical difference. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, of course–American Gods, for example, is definitely fantasy and definitely a thinking book.

I was going to talk about how it’s a little bit of both. I already mentioned the post-apocalyptic thing: Highly radioactive bombs have destroyed most of the Earth, and what life is left is pretty much forced to live on islands. Those who remained on the mainland are horribly mutated and have reverted to an animal-like state. Vegan tourists come to see the Earth, tour its monuments, and take it as a warning of what can happen if they stop living at peace with each other. Humans who have left the Earth and share worlds with the Vegans are treated as inferior and of lower caste, partially because, I think, their species was so stupid it destroyed its planet, and partially because they lack some natural abilities that the Vegans have–we can’t, for example, see nearly as many colors as they can. The people remaining on Earth want the Vegans gone and struggle to maintain control of their planet. “Rachael,” you’re saying, “This is definitely just hard science fiction. I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say it’s both.”

Sheesh, I haven’t gotten there yet, okay?

The main character, Conrad Nomikos, is a creature out of Greek mythology. He is suspected to be a Kallikanzaros, which I just looked up and is apparently some kind of goblin thing that tries to ruin Christmas, and this is one of those situations where I really don’t think Wikipedia is giving me the whole story because I believe the actual word for that is “Grinch.” He is immortal. His son is Jason, of Greek myth fame, and his wife may or may not be Cassandra, also of Greek myth fame, though that was only kind of hinted at and we don’t really know if she’s immortal. There’s a group of Satyrs, a hellhound, and a giant boar. So, definitely fantasy.

Definitely both.

The book follows Conrad as he reluctantly gives Cort Myshtigo, a powerful Vegan surveyor and writer, a tour of what’s left of Earth’s landmarks. They’re accompanied by an eclectic group of friends and acquaintances, most of whom I can’t really tell you anything about because my brain wasn’t working well enough for the first half of the book to really have any idea what was going on to talk about them without giving away major spoilers, but the general gist is this: Some of them want Myshtigo dead, and Conrad isn’t sure if he agrees.

I definitely enjoyed this book as I was reading it, and I loved the second half once my brain cleared up a little and I figured out what was going on. I definitely need to re-read this, possibly the next time my brain isn’t fully clear to be able to actually understand what’s going on, because two half-understandings might lead to a full understanding. In the meantime, I have a few more Zelazny books that I’ll get around to before too long.

And, for book 5 of the 50 Book Project…

 
Paper Towns by John Green. I’m determined to go into this with a complete lack of expectations. When I read Looking for Alaska, for some reason I expected something fun–I’m blaming his YouTube channel–and got something heartbreaking. After that introduction to his writing, I read An Abundance of Katherines expecting it to be painful, when really, it was quite fun. As you can see, the cover of this claims that it’s “Profoundly moving,” which could mean a lot of things.
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