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Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Blahs, and Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars

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Am I the only person who’s been feeling blah lately?

Whenever summer comes around, it seems like everyone I know is super excited about all the great weather we have, the prospect of going to the beach, shorts and flip flops, and all the other stuff that summer apparently means to most people. I guess I’m the worst kind of person, though, because as soon as it breaks 75 degrees, I find it disgustingly hot out. I can’t stand the idea of spending a day at the beach–the sun, the sand, the seaweed–it’s all too much for me. And I’d much rather wear jeans and a hoodie than shorts and a tank top. I’m just not made for summer, I guess.

It doesn’t help that we’re moving soon. I just put my work schedule for the week up on my refrigerator planner (which is the best invention ever, by the way) and it’s forcing me to think about the fact that Friday is my last day at my super-awesome job, because as much as I love it, I would have to be literally insane to try to make a 2.5-hour commute work. And no matter how hard I try, I can neither figure out how to apparate nor convince my boss to set the shop up on the Floo network.

So moving means leaving my job, which I love; my friends, whom I will miss; and this town, which I have grown fond of over the past three years. It also means needing to hunt for a new job, which could be difficult and stressful; having to make new friends, which is terrifying and will likely take a couple of years; and needing to adjust to a whole new area that I’ve only been to a few times before. Also? There’s no Target. How are there still areas with no Target?

Moving also means packing, which, surprise! We’ve barely started doing. And that’s okay, because after Friday when we both finish work, we’ve got about a week and a half before Moving Day, and that’s more than enough time to pack up our small apartment. What’s not okay is that everyone keeps asking me, “So you’re all packed, right?” Because, no, we’re not, and we shouldn’t be, because if we were, then we’d have nothing to do during that week and a half–there would be no packing left to do, and all our stuff would be packed so we wouldn’t have any way of entertaining ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t start having a panic attack every time someone asks.

All this stuff combines to make me feel a little depressed and much more anxious than usual, and that then starts making me feel weird physically, and I basically want to curl up and sleep until I’m magically all settled into our new house and bestowed with an awesome job and group of friends. So I’m trying to focus on positive things. Like, if it takes a while to find a job, I’ll have a lot of downtime to read in my awesome new reading nook in my house! And we’ll have a nice yard, and we’ll be near the beach, so if I want a change of pace I will have options for reading outside! Maybe I’ll get a job at a bookstore and be able to get an employee discount on books! There might be an awesome book club in the area where people actually read the book and I’ll meet people who like books!

And since that entire list of positive things to think about boils down to “hooray books,” does anyone have any ideas about other things I might be able to look forward to when moving? Because as great as books are, sometimes they are just depressing and not helpful when in a funk. Which reminds me, I have a book to write about.

Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Yes, thank you, I will take the non-movie cover.

Okay, first, can we very quickly talk about how this book came out in 2012, but the paperback just came out a couple of months ago? I don’t think I’m alone in greatly preferring to read paperbacks. I don’t know what other people’s reasons are, but I have wrist issues, so holding a hardcover for long periods of time gets frustrating. I therefore find it ridiculous that they seem to be waiting longer and longer to release the paperback versions of popular books. Are they hoping we’ll cave and buy the hardcover and they’ll make more money? I, for one, refuse to cave. Unless the paperback is only released with a movie cover, which at first this seemed like it would be (despite what Barnes and Noble’s website will have you believe, there is a paperback that looks like this one).

If you’re reading this and you don’t know what The Fault in Our Stars is about, I would like to thank you for making my blog the first thing you look at after you crawled out from the rock you’ve been living under. I’m flattered! But seriously, you know this, right? Two teenagers with cancer fall in love and go on an adventure and it all ends in tragedy and pain because, duh, it’s John Green. So I’m just going to go ahead and fill the rest of this post with SPOILERS if it’s alright with you.

REALLY, IF YOU DON’T LIKE SPOILERS AND DON’T ALREADY KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, STOP READING HERE.

The big spoiler was spoiled for me early on, long before the paperback version came out and I actually read the book. Unfortunately, in this situation, it did actually kind of spoil the book. Before I read that Augustus dies, everything I had read let me sit there believing that oh, well, Hazel has terminal cancer, and John Green likes to kill off main characters, so I mean this is pretty obvious right? And I would have gotten thoroughly attached to Augustus and thrown the book across the room and cried when he ended up being the one to die. Instead, as soon as he was introduced, I knew what was going to happen, didn’t let myself get attached, and was just waiting for him to get sick again and eventually die.

My whole experience got screwed up because of that spoiler, and because of it, the book that everyone seems to think is the greatest thing John Green has ever done ended up being tied for my least favorite of his books. Don’t get me wrong! I loved it. Like the media and about 80% of teenage girls, I’m a little in love with everything John Green. It’s just that I loved Paper Towns a lot more, and Looking for Alaska a whole lot more. The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines are tied, oddly, since they’re the two of his books with the fewest similarities. (I haven’t read Will Grayson, Will Grayson yet. I think that’s slated for book 25. We’ll see where that falls in the lineup.)

Of course, it might not have been entirely the spoiler’s fault. I found the characters in The Fault in Our Stars less relatable than his other characters, which I think may mean I failed at reading it. I didn’t relate, and I didn’t get attached–I was so afraid they were going to die that I kept them at arm’s length, which–

SHIT. John Green, you win. Okay. I see what you did there. Because, really, of all the characters in John Green’s books, Hazel is probably the one I should relate to. Of course, I don’t have cancer, but I can understand depression. I totally get the whole life revolving around a book thing. I understand being really introverted. I even completely agree with her philosophy as Augustus describes it in his eulogy for her: I see all these people who think they need to do something of enormity with their lives, that they need to be remembered forever for their lives to have mattered at all, and I simply don’t get it. I write, and if I eventually write something that people will remember, well, I don’t think I’d want that to be too big a deal (okay, let’s be honest: Van Houten is the most relatable character ever). But if I got hit by a car tomorrow, I wouldn’t be lying in the hospital thinking I was going to die and worrying that I didn’t matter, because I know I matter, and the people who would remember me are enough. (Then, of course, the surgeons would come over and fix the small thing that was wrong, and I’d get a cast, and everything would be okay and I’d live, because there’s still a whole lot more I want to do before I’m really okay with dying. I’m not saying that dying would be okay with me–just that I wouldn’t be worried about mattering and being remembered.)

So as relatable as Hazel was, I didn’t relate to her. I kept her at arm’s length because she had cancer and I didn’t want to get hurt if John Green ended the book in the middle of a sentence. I hid behind mild annoyance at her refusal to be a little bit introspective and realize why what happened after the end of her favorite book mattered so much to her. “Come on, Hazel,” I was thinking, “you obviously just need to know that the people who care about you will go on afterward. Talk to your parents. They can give you what you need.” I also had the, “Come on, Hazel. It’s a book. Nothing happens after. Books just end.” See? I told you Van Houten was relatable.

END SPOILERS

All this being said, I really did love The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t think my sudden mid-blogging epiphany is enough to move it above Looking for Alaska, but now, at the end of this post, I’m tying it with Paper Towns instead of An Abundance of Katherines. And I devoured this book. As in, I read it in five hours, curled up on my couch waiting to drive down to my mom’s. I went and saw the movie within a week of it coming out, and though I didn’t love it quite as much as I loved the book, I did cry more.

And so we come to the big question: Should you read this book? And the answer isn’t complicated: Yes, you should. It’s incredibly sad, but that’s okay. Read it, then think about it, and think quite a lot, because if you read the spoilers, you’ll realize that it took me until halfway through this post to get what I needed from this book out of it. And I think that that’s something that sad books have over happy ones: They generally contain something that we need to read. That’s why they hurt so much. We may not need it immediately, and I think at least part of the reason Looking for Alaska still outranks this one in my mind is that I needed the lesson from that one immediately, whereas the lesson I took from The Fault in Our Stars is one I’ll hold onto until it becomes a bit more relevant, which will hopefully not be for a very long time.

I’ve talked before about how much I love John Green, and in my last post, I discussed the importance of YA lit. So before I finish, I have to add one more thing. Remember the Madeleine L’Engle quote I used? No? Here it is again:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

The Fault in Our Stars does exactly that. Can you imagine reading a “cancer patients in love” book for adults? Every time I try, it just seems like it would be overly pretentious, preachy, and/or saccharine. For young adults, it worked. It gave teens something they didn’t have yet, and adults a way to think about things in a way that we usually don’t have to. I believe that this book will help people connect and relate to their loved ones with terminal illness, whether that illness happens now or 30 years from now. And I think it gave kids with terminal illness a chance to relate a little more to something in pop culture and maybe feel a little more normal, though of course, I have no experience in that and may be way off base or even possibly offending someone (sorry). In all, it’s a worthwhile read, whether you’re a YA fan or not.

Coming Soon:
16. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson

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The YA Debate, and Book 14: The Graveyard Book

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If you follow bookish news on the internet at all, you probably know that, apparently, some supposedly decent website recently posted an article about how adults should be ashamed to read young adult literature. I’m under the impression that, according to said article, every minute that an adult spends reading YA lit is a minute they could have been spending serious classic literature, and it’s therefore bad. I’m also under the impression that this article went on to say that people who read Harry Potter as kids or teenagers will never read anything good in their lives.

You may have noticed my use of the words apparently, supposedly, and impression up there. That’s because there’s no fucking way I am going to read this article. I have two reasons for this:

  • Why would I read something that is so clearly just going to infuriate me? There’s enough crappy stuff in the world that I have no choice about being exposed to, so I do my best to avoid seeking things out that will just put me in a bad mood.
  • I have no desire to support the website that would publish such an article, and I mean this to the extent that I don’t want them getting the few cents of ad revenue they would get just from my click. I honestly believe that a lot of articles that push a lot of people’s buttons are published solely for the purpose of generating ad revenue, because what’s the first thing most people do when they read something that pisses them off? They share it on Facebook. And people who see an article title that pisses them off seem to always click on it. So I try to offset that by refusing to, and I wish more people would, too. Notice I’m not linking it.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that the person who wrote the article in question had never read Harry Potter in his miserable, boring, stodgy-old-classic-filled life, because if he had, he would probably realize that not only will the people who read it probably go on to read worthwhile things, but that the Harry Potter series itself is incredibly worthwhile.

You can obviously tell that I disagree with the article about as vehemently as it is possible to disagree. Now, personally, I wouldn’t want to read nothing but YA. I feel like I–again, personally–would get kind of bored after a while. However, even if someone does want to read nothing but YA, is there really anything wrong with that?

One of my favorite quotes: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Madeleine L’Engle said that, and I think she’s right.

See, there are a whole lot of YA books out there that deal with dark, weird, depressing, terrifying, or otherwise disturbing topics, from the mundane to the fantastical. And I think that’s awesome. I think it’s great that these books are getting younger people thinking about topics that scare us. And I also think it’s awesome that adults keep reading them, because it forces us to look at them differently. Maybe it makes us think about things the way we might have as kids, when we didn’t feel like we already had all the answers. It gives us fresher eyes, lets us step back and consider something from a more innocent point of view. And that always makes me wonder why we live in a world where innocent points of view need to consider such horrible things.

I think there’s a reason why post-apocalypse dystopian literature hasn’t really caught on outside the young adult genre. It’s not as if the topic only interests teenagers; I know plenty of adults who devoured The Hunger Games series as readily as any kid. I find that this genre makes me think about the world we’re fucking up, and how the younger generations are the ones who will be left to deal with it. It makes me think about how Katniss is too young to be leading a revolution, but then I remember that 18 year olds are routinely sent off to die in war, and how is that okay?

So no, I don’t think anyone should be embarrassed to read YA lit. I think the people who should be embarrassed are the ones who look at the world in black and white, with a completely closed mind, and refuse to accept that other points of view might at least be worth thinking about. I’m pretty sure half the point of being an adult is being able to make your own decisions, so read whatever you want. I’m not going to judge you. And if you judge me, I honestly don’t care.

Book 14: The Graveyard Book

When I first heard of The Graveyard Book, and in fact until pretty much the time I picked it up in a store a few months ago, it was always as “an illustrated children’s book.” Now, I know Neil Gaiman has written illustrated children’s books, such as Blueberry Girl and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.

The Graveyard Book is not what any sane person would think of when told that something is “an illustrated children’s book.” The Graveyard Book is, in fact, a full-length novel (almost 300 pages) with occasional black and white artistic renderings scattered throughout.

The Cat in the Hat is an illustrated children’s book. The Graveyard Book is a young adult novel that starts with the murder of an infant’s entire family.

And, most importantly, The Graveyard Book is classic Neil Gaiman, so obviously, I loved it. If you’ve read a lot of Gaiman, you’ll probably find this quite predictable, but if you love Gaiman, you won’t care one bit. Once again, he has taken an ordinary human and put him in a haunting (pun definitely intended) and beautiful secret fantasy world that hides within ours, completely unbeknownst to the rest of the human world. Only this time, the ordinary human is a baby boy who gets adopted by ghosts (who name him Nobody) and raised in a graveyard, learning all the secrets of the dead and otherwise unalive. But danger lurks outside the graveyard’s gates…

So, if you love Neil Gaiman and haven’t read this yet, go get it right now. I’ll wait. Done? Okay!

If you’re unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman, does The Jungle Book in a graveyard sound like a fun story to you? If so, definitely read this! If not, probably still read this, because Neil Gaiman is a master of his craft and I’m sure you’ll be surprised by how much you like this book.

Coming Soon:
15. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
16. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson

Meeting the Author, and Book 13: The Sandcastle Girls

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They say you should never meet your heroes.

I can’t really speak to whether or not that’s true. I mean, I met Amanda Palmer (twice!), and that was okay. She was clearly a little exhausted from the show she was doing, but she was laid back and friendly and signed a flowerpot for me. I still need to plant something in it.

However, I do now know this: You should never meet the author of that book that you just read for book club and didn’t really like all that much (well, if you’re honest with yourself, kind of hated).

I don’t imagine I would have felt as strongly as I did about the book if the author hadn’t been coming to the meeting. I doubt I would have loved it, but I would have maybe at least kind of liked it. So maybe the lesson (or at least part of the lesson) is: Don’t figure out that you’re going to meet the author until after you’ve read the book and formed an opinion, because knowing that you’re going to meet the author makes you feel obligated to like the book.

I would maybe have liked the book a lot more if I’d met the author before reading it instead of after. See, he gave this big presentation about the Armenian Genocide, and I felt like knowing the information that I got there would have been helpful. It’s a subject that I know absolutely nothing about, and while the book wasn’t written in a way that assumed I was a scholar on the subject, I could tell I was missing something. His presentation could have been very helpful. So, another part of the lesson: Don’t meet the author after you read the book, but before might be okay because you might learn something that will make you enjoy the book a lot more.

On a similar note, maybe what I did wrong was know anything about the author going in. Since it was a book club book, we’d briefly discussed Chris Bohjalian before starting this book. So I knew going in that he’s of Armenian descent, which meant that when the narrator is an American-of-Armenian-Descent author, my brain did this thing where it extrapolated and figured that any part of this book could have been autobiographical. So, every time I hated a character, I was worried that my book club would bring up that character in discussion and I would say, “Oh, that character was so obnoxious,” and he would say, “Excuse me, that character is a 100% accurate representation of my grandmother, thank you very much.” Or if I said, “I found the part where the narrator’s twin brother told his sister about his first erections that happened while watching their aunt belly dance kind of seriously fucked up,” he would say, “Who are you to judge how I got my first erections?”

None of this happened.

What did happen is this. At the end of the night, we got in line to have our books signed, and when I got up to the front I talked to him for about 30 seconds about how I want to be an author, and I lied and said I really enjoyed the book, and I’m a terrible liar so maybe that explains what happened next. I saw a pile of post-it notes with names written on them, and I said, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see any notes. My name is Rachael, R-A-C-H-A-E-L.” He said, “I know how to spell that.” I said, “Okay. It’s just an uncommon spelling, with the AEL ending.”

And he spelled my fucking name wrong.

So don’t meet the author, because he’ll be able to tell that you’re lying, and he’ll spell your name wrong in your book and you’ll have to find someone named Rachel who is interested in novels about the Armenian genocide to give it to so you can pretend that was your intention all along, and good luck with that.

Book 13: The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

The Sandcastle Girls is the story of a woman discovering her grandparents’ story.

Laura, a middle-aged, modern-day Armenian-American woman, tells us the story of her family as she looks back at her life. I found her memories disjointed and hard to follow. She talks about time she remembers spending with her Armenian grandparents as a child. Next time we’re with her, she’s discussing her Turkish high school boyfriend. Then she goes back to her grandparents, then to college, then back to the boyfriend, and then the grandparents. I found that the structure of the book was broken up enough from the frequent shifts in point of view that having one of them bounce around in time became extremely distracting. I also didn’t believe her as a female narrator. For example, there’s one point when, in discussing her Turkish boyfriend Bork, she says, “And two years later, he was the first boy I fucked.” Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t women out there who will refer to their first time as fucking, but I don’t think it would be all that common and I especially don’t think it fit with this narrator’s character. Of course, she then goes into a lengthy explanation about why she chose the word “fucked,” which sounded to me less like proof that the narrator used the right word and more like someone had read that part and said to Bohjalian, “No woman would talk about her first time like that,” and rather than accepting criticism and changing it, he tried to justify it with a big long explanation.

I found the parts that took place in the past much more believable, if not more likable. These parts of the book followed the lives of Elizabeth Endicott, a wealthy Bostonian woman who went to Syria to provide medical aid to the Armenian refugees after finishing college(and Laura’s grandmother); Armen Petrosian, an Armenian soldier and engineer who hopes for news of his family before he leaves for Egypt where he may be safe (and Laura’s grandfather); Nevart, an Armenian woman whom Elizabeth rescues from being sent to the death camp in the desert; and Hatoun, a young girl whom Nevart looked after after Hatoun had been forced to watch her mother and sister raped and murdered. There are other characters, but these four make up the bulk of the Syria 1915 plot.

These parts of the story are written in third person limited, but jumping from a focus on one character to another. At the beginning, I found this infuriating–there was one two-page spread that included four different points of view on it, which made it extremely difficult to get involved in any one character’s story.

I loved the Armenian characters in these parts of the story. Their lives sucked. Their families were dead. Everything was horrible. But despite that, they managed to keep going, and I found that inspirational. I don’t know how realistic they were, but they were well-developed and interesting. Likable.

I hated–absolutely hated–the Westerners who had gone to help. “But Rachael,” you’re asking, “They’re over there doing volunteer work. What’s to hate?” Well, let me tell you. They were wealthy. Like, extremely wealthy. And they were doing what they could to help, and that’s great. But their attitudes–and this is the #1 reason I just couldn’t like this book–were very, “Ooh, poverty! How exotic! I can’t wait to tell my friends at super fancy dinner parties when I go back home! They’ll simply die when they hear how I suffered.” Now, this may be a slight exaggeration, but it was how they felt to me when I was reading it. There was a point where even Elizabeth mentions that the others seem excited about how poor their accommodations are, which she seems bothered by, forgetting that it was not that long ago that she’s said she had been hoping her room would be a lot smaller than it was. Perhaps it was motivated by a sense of guilt–that she had so much, even there, when so many were suffering–but it read to me more like she was thinking, “Man, I’ll never get any street cred if people find out I’m living in a palace here!”

A friend of mine pointed out that I could have read these characters as satirical, which I’m sure they were at least partially meant to be. However, the reason satire is funny is that it reflects real life, and this isn’t a part of real life I find funny. I know there are people out there who are just like that, who go do volunteer work and think the poverty around them is something novel and exciting when really it’s something horrible, but that doesn’t sink in for them because at the end of the day, they can go home. But to a whole lot of people, that is home.

So, I’m sorry. I hated The Sandcastle Girls. I feel like it was 25% good and 75% awful.

However, I’m pretty much alone in my feelings there. Everyone else who showed up at the meeting (and the entire bookstore was packed) seemed positively enthralled with it, though there is the chance that the author’s promised presence had the opposite effect on them than it did on me.

***

Anyway, I have some exciting books coming up! Here’s the lineup:

14: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
15: The Fault in our Stars by John Green
16: The Round House by Louise Erdrich
17: Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18: Unsouled by Neal Shusterman
19: Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20: Lexicon by Max Barry
21: London Falling by Paul Cornell
22: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (probably)

So tell me: What books have you read that you just hated? Did you finish them, or do you stop once it’s obvious that you’re not going to like it?