Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Life During History, and Graphic Romance in YA

Book review, huzzah!

I just finished Life: An Exploded Diagram, by Mal Peet. Basic premise follows:

  • Boy meets girl.
  • Boy and girl are of radically different class backgrounds.
  • It's 1960s England so this is super important to the adults and it's Romeo and Juliettish. (The main character's savvy best friend points this out early on. I liked that guy, and this book could've used more of him.)
  • Boy and girl sneak around and make out a lot.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis just happens to be going on.
It's presented in a sort of zigzagged, out of order way. (Lots of asides about Kennedy and Khrushchev and the construction of various types of planes. Also, entire chapters switch from third to first person, which I didn't particularly like, and most of the dialogue is written in a thiiiiiick accent. Sort of like Hagrid, if Hagrid was speaking for 85% of an entire novel.)

Nevertheless, it brings up some interesting points. Like how not everything set in "historical times" has to really deal with the history going on. People live normal lives through, in this case, the imminent threat of nuclear warfare. The characters are teenagers, so they have a license to not care, and they're written that way. It's realistic, which I appreciate. (When have "current affairs" ever interfered with the personal lives of horny teens, really?)

Also, it gets about yay *flimsy gesture of measurement with hands* smutty. I don't know if it was all supposed to be arousing or artistic or solely for the sake of imagery or what. I'm not personally morally opposed or disturbed by it, nor am I all hot and flustered at the very prospect of smut, as the depraved SMeyer fan might be. I just found some of the lengthy paragraphs about the "ivory curvature of her breast" and how "they kissed as if they were running out of oxygen" (paraphrased examples) kind of tedious. (Overall, though, 6.5/10. Rating things makes them seem so much more official, doesn't it?)

Thoughts on "romantic" scenes in general?

Friday, November 25, 2011


(I'm going to be a cheapskate and post this review of "Hugo" that I just wrote on Tumblr immediately before realizing that I could have just written it here. Still, this film was good enough that I will review it in all the places!)

I went to see “Hugo” today with my parents. My mom works at an elementary school library and thus reads a crapton of children’s books, so I feel she is somewhat qualified to tell you (through me) that The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the book on which the film is (closely) based, is a really excellent book. Although you can certainly see “Hugo” without reading the book first (my dad hasn’t read it but still liked the movie), I definitely recommend reading it first. The book is really cool because it’s sort of hyper-illustrated; the pictures don’t just illustrate the words, they actually add to the story itself. Watching the film after reading the book is definitely worth it because you can actually see pictures from the book come to life on screen and it makes the film even more stunning.

Like, let me just start off by telling you that it was so visually beautiful. I’m still not an outright fan of 3D, but watching “Hugo,” I kept seeing a glimmer of hope for 3D as something that can actually positively add to a film rather than just being an annoying and pointless special effect just for kicks. Though it would have been gorgeous without 3D, the times when it really stood out was when old black-and-white photos, illustrations, and silent films suddenly gained more depth. The whole movie, seriously, was just so beautiful — enough for me to clearly notice, and I most definitely am not a movie buff.

And it has to be said that it made me tear up quite a few times as well. Okay, guys, I think I actually prefer children’s/family films when they’re done well. Like, they just somehow manage to push all the right emotional buttons. (Pixar, guys, PIXAR.) “Hugo” focuses a lot on family, though not at all in a cheesy way, and it’s just sad and happy and a lot of FEELS all at the same time.

Basically, I am no film reviewer, but “Hugo” was fucking awesome and you best get yourself to the library/bookstore/movie theater ASAP.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving angst

I kind of hate Thanksgiving for being a symbol of colonization and binge eating. I mean, not to rain on the parade. Maybe I should have waited until next week or something, but it's relevant to a lot of people today, so excuse my angst.

Colonization sucks. I wish I could be a bit more eloquent about it but anger makes it hard to elaborate. John mentioned something in his FIFA video regarding Amsterdam about how the Dutch are very aware that their wealth is built on an a foundation of exploitation whereas (I'm going to add North) Americans do not. The fact that we* are living here means that entire cultures had to be suppressed and assimilated.

That's shitty. I think that's all I had to say. It's easy to forget all of this, or never even think about it in the first place, when the family come around and we sit around a table and smile and argue and eat amazing food. It's way easier to ignore the fact that we are making our lives on arguably stolen land. But I think we need to have it on our consciousness everyday--especially days like Thanksgiving and that one named after (that shithead) Columbus.

So there. I said it. Thanksgiving, as beautiful as the idea of giving thanks is, makes me angry. Resume the pie eating and merry making.

*and by we, I mean European settlers. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Cat-related epiphany

Cats are a lot like people. People who like cats, I assume, like cats for this quality. I don't.

Half the time, I barely like people*, who have the ability to communicate with me and offer me sympathy/food. So a furry animal that embodies only the fickle enigmas of humanity without the more redeeming qualities tends to be annoying to me.

I'm not writing off an entire species here. Out of the maybe dozen or so cats I've had to be around via friends and relatives, the cat whom I like the most is the one I've known since she was a kitten (and thus adorable, and used to being around new people constantly, without the distrust and inherent bitterness of adult-catdom). She's sweet to me, because she knows me, and I've given her no reason to dislike me in any way. This is a perfectly reasonable basis for a relationship, in human terms.

Also speaking in human terms, then, I know I really shouldn't be so indignant about the fact that the majority of cats I know just don't like me. I just don't like some people I know, why should it be any different because there's an interspecies gap? Maybe only one cat I've ever come across hasn't had a naturally shitty disposition. But a dozen is a comparatively small sampling of every cat in the world. Of a dozen random people, how many of them would have an immediately sunshiny demeanor? Probably one.

In contrast, dogs are very much not like people, or are at least the rare "immediately sunshiny" type of person. My family had dogs when I was younger, so maybe I just send out better vibes or something. But after five seconds of crossing paths with someone walking their dog on the street or being in the house of someone who has a dog, literally all of them are eager and excited and friendly, which I reciprocate.** I admire this quality. Possibly because it's just so un-human, in a good way.

I don't know what I'm saying or trying to prove anymore. Happy Thursday, Alex. Happy Thanksgiving, Vita.

* Am I exaggerating here? I don't really know, to be honest.
** I am very guilty of stupid animal voice.

*** All this talk about cats is reminding me of this video.

Monday, November 21, 2011

books and movies and uncreative blog titles

I was about to skip out yet again but then I realized that if I have time to procrastinate for an hour doing nothing besides scrolling through Tumblr and watching the latest episode of Parks and Recreation, I certainly have time to lay down the homework that "I am doing" and hang out at the old R & P blog again.

Hey guys. What's up? You've grown! Looking good. Etc.

There are five films that are coming out soon -- or soon-ish, as in within the next year or so -- that have reminded me of Hank's whole "Read it 1st" campaign. The Hunger Games, The Great Gatsby, Hugo (The Invention of Hugo Cabret in book form), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and The Hobbit.

Let's be upfront here: I am a book lover. And yes, while I acknowledge that films are a category of art unto themselves, I doubt I'll ever be able to get over my own personal feeling that the book is better. This isn't a set rule, of course; there are most definitely film adaptations that have surpassed their literary brethren. And there are plenty more that are equally as good as the book, if the two forms are even comparable; Tim Burton's spin on Alice in Wonderland lacked the strong plot or emotional punch-to-the-gut that I'd hoped for, but it was so delightful to look at -- pretty colors -- and that specific quality is impossible to experience through the pages of a book.

Still, books are where I lose myself and subsequently find myself again. I get them. I know the things they do to entice me but I'm still not immune to their charms. And yeah, the remake of The Great Gatsby will surely be an entertaining movie whether it veers on the side of awesome or of awesomely terrible, but it's a totally different experience from reading the book. You lose the narration; you lose the paragraph breaks. You gain something else, yeah, but you're modifying the medium entirely -- it's just different.

Which is why I need to get off the internet more and actually read these books before the film versions come out, with the exception of The Hunger Games. You know that I didn't really like the first book (enough to stay away from the other two), but oh man, the trailer gave me the shivers. Obviously I can't say for sure until I've seen the movie, but it seems to me that The Hunger Games is better suited for a movie than a book, at least to me. I wonder if that's why I didn't like it while reading it, because I couldn't get into the style of writing, because it seemed too cinematic for my taste. I just think it's really cool and weird and awesome how changing the medium through which a story is told so drastically affects the story itself.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

it snowed earlier

In other news, I'm going camping this weekend. What? Yeah.

I don't know why I do these things to myself. Honestly, last month, it seemed like a good idea to go camping this weekend. Well, maybe not a *good* idea but a *fine* idea. But now that it is tomorrow, and I have been outside recently, I am abundantly aware that I am going to freeze and I can't help but be comforted by the fact that at least then I won't have the opportunity of failing NaNoWriMo.

Speaking of which, does anyone want to take a stab at why NaNoWriMo is so freaking hard for me this year? I can only assume it's because I'm writing last year's story and it is way more difficult to write a story which you've already written 50,000 words of (and cut 30,000) than to start fresh.

I did write 3,000 words today which was comforting. I'm now halfway through and only two days behind. And hopefully I will find the inspiration to write this weekend when my fingers are freezing off and I don't want to leave my sleeping bag.

It's going to be fun! Yeah! Woohoo.
...I have to go pack. See you on Sunday, provided I make it until then.

Monday, November 14, 2011

stealing your Monday - more book reviewing!

When I got to work this morning and realized it was Monday and yesterday had been Sunday and I forgot to blog, I was pretty disappointed. I almost felt a little cheated. I guess I dropped the ball a little. But here I am. Surprise!

I will now be reviewing a book, because this is a good trend that I like. I haven't been reading a ton lately* but I did finish Perfect by Ellen Hopkins last week.

Oh my god, Ellen Hopkins is the coolest. Are you guys** familiar with Ellen Hopkins (apart from the fact that she is cited as a prime example in any one of those "YA fiction is depraved and sinister and EVIL because of REASONS" articles)? Basically, she writes one word titled books in verse about teen-ish characters who face scary and real issues in their lives. The three I've read were roughly centered around life in a mental hospital (Impulse), teenage prostitution (Tricks) and (most recently) the pressure to achieve perfection (Perfect).

I feel like I have to write a short note about format because it is a little unusual. These books are written in verse.
I remember a conversation I had with a couple friends when I was reading Impulse. I was raving because it was so different and amazing and gritty and true and then it popped up that it was written in verse, yeah, like poetry. I had a couple friends just brush it off, saying it would bug them and they can't read books like that.
As much as I try to be respectful of things like that, it bothered me. Once you give it a chance and get into the flow of it, reading a book in verse is no different than reading a book with multiple narrators or that is written in present tense. What I'm trying to say is that, for the most part, you get used to it. So if you don't want to try new things, whatever, that's your deal. I just wish everyone would quit hiding behind excuses and clinging to normalcy. /end rant>

Poetry amazes me. The fact that this book contains a fraction of the words of any of the others on my shelf just strikes me with awe. There's just so much going on, not just emotion but plot, and there's a beautiful mix of simplicity and complexity in the pages. A lot of the times when I'm writing, I think I'm being too terse and then I look at Perfect and think, nope, fewer words is not necessarily better--on the contrary, a lot of times less is more.

On the negative side, sometimes multi-narrator books irritate me. Not only can it come across as fractured and jumpy but I feel like as soon as you start to get into what's happening with one character, you get yanked out and inserted in the next person's story. Having said that, I think Hopkins does this juggling trick as gracefully as possible and the array of characters does seem to serve her purpose.

I feel like Perfect captured a lot of the pressures of being a young adult today. There's a lot of really powerful and raw emotion in here and it came across really well done. I also feel exceedingly lucky when I read these books where 4 out of 5 parents are loading on the expectations, practically crippling their kids, and mine are like, "Yeah, do what you want, kid. Be happy."

It's sad. There's so many tough situations out there and no shortage of teenagers dealing with them. The book left off on a couple different notes, with some of the characters (okay, one) moving towards their dreams and future happiness and some stuck in the same rut of eating disorders and steroid use. I guess it's realistic but it's also challenging. I know everybody doesn't always get better, that there's no such thing as a simple cure, and maybe the lingering hope should be enough but it's just not.

I really enjoyed it, regardless. Perfect (and the rest of Ellen Hopkins's books for that matter) gets a recommendation that I don't think I can narrow down. For those who want to read a slightly hopeful but ultimately realistic portrayal of demented societal and parental pressures and stigmas on young people? For whoever thinks poetry isn't for them? I don't know. Read it if you want and let me know what you think if you do.

I'm off to bed. Best wishes!

*c'mon, guys, it's NaNoWriMo. What did you expect? (Oh I can't use that as an excuse because I haven't written anything in 3 days? Shhh.)
**sometimes I find myself haunted with longing for the English language to develop a plural form of the word 'you.' LEXICAL GAPS SUCK!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Name of What Star? A Good Star!

The Name of the Star Review

Can this month be national (and by national I mean "Raving Persuasions") book review month? In all seriousness, I'd be all behind my own suggestion if it wasn't for the fact that most of my reviews in No(Yes!)vember would consist of Stalin and French Resistance historical books, which I don't think most people would be inclined to pick up for a bit of easy reading. Still, I've been reading a lot more lately (hooray) so I hope you don't mind if a few more book reviews pop up from me. You can't stop me.

To preface this, a small note about my relation to Young Adult literature: As much as I enjoy a wide range of books, as much as I like reading more challenging books or books written in new styles (new to me, at least) or books that generally expand my worldview, sometimes I just really need to sit down with a solidly written YA book of a familiar style. Not to degrade YA as a category -- there are tons of genuinely good YA books -- but I find them on the whole to be the most accessible category of book; the ones I read most of pure enjoyment and comfort. So it's always excellent when you stumble across an interesting, fresh, yet easy to read YA book that allows you to simply engage in a good story without much effort.

As it fit all of the requirements, I loved The Name of the Star.

See, as much as I adore Maureen Johnson, her books have never been my favorite. I've enjoyed them well enough, but they've fallen a little flat for me -- they didn't have anything about them that made me go from liking to loving them. This time, however, though it wasn't a flawless book (not that any book ever is), there was so much good stuff in it that I just couldn't stop reading, and am now a little bit weepy at the thought of having to wait -- how long? too long, whatever the date is -- for the next two to be published.

One of the strong points of the book was its plot. The basic idea is that Rory, an American teenager, moves to London to go to school just as somebody begins to recreate the Jack the Ripper murders, and -- of course -- ends up getting involved. Simple enough, but plenty of possibilities to work with. Another one of Johnson's supernatural books comes to mind, Devilish, which I think provides an apt contrast between a supernatural book done well and a supernatural book that tried too hard. Whereas in Devilish, I spent the entire book feeling slightly confused and thus the impact of the ending was totally lost on me -- plus I didn't feel any strong emotion towards the characters -- in The Name of the Star, the plot was wisely chiseled down until it had one strong focus. That really helped to keep me engaged.

The other thing I really loved about The Name of the Star were the characters. (I'm such a sucker for books with good characters, I swear.) Again, this time around, I actually really loved the characters. They were relatable enough, flawed but not annoying, funny, developed... Rory was an apt main character. Though at times a bit insensitive to her roommate's personality, I thought, she was generally a cool-seeming person.

The creepiness of this book seemed to directly correlate to what time of day I read it. In the middle of the afternoon, it was (at times) one part creepy and two parts entertaining/intriguing, but I had to haul ass out of my kitchen a few times around midnight because I started getting freaked out about all that open space (relative to my nice, safe, serial-killer-proof bed, of course). It certainly wasn't terrifying or on the same level as "proper," traditional-style ghost stories, but the level of scary was relatable and believable. Though Rory did suffer from the same "how are you so calm I would literally be having a heart attack in your position" level-headed demeanor around the scary bits that is so common among protagonists who need to move the story forward. Ah well. It didn't detract from anything.

Aside from a few minor things -- two of the characters practically disappeared from the second half of the book, which was understandable but a shame -- the most grating flaw in the book was their method for dispelling ghosts. Much like the sonic screwdriver in Doctor Who (minus the latter's earned and affectionate history), their method involved a seemingly simplistic piece of equipment that conveniently does very complicated work without ever explaining how or why. It subsequently aided in making the culprit's motivation behind the murders substantially less satisfying and thrilling than it ought to have been.

Still, The Name of the Star was ultimately a success if not a masterpiece. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to read the rest of the trilogy!

Another Book Review (of a different sort)

Unlike Vita, I have no qualms about blogging about books I've had to read for school. Because of the all-consuming nature of the public school system, as of right now I haven't been reading for pleasure much. Less than I want to, at least. Remember I talked about reviewing this book I hated, about THE YOUTH and THE INTERNET?* The time is now, grab your popcorn.

That book is Born Digital, by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser. I picked it because I thought the cover was clever, which is something I deeply regret now. Basically, it's 375 pages of trying to define, analyze, and condemn internet culture and all us young whippersnappers who are so infatuated with it. It's a book for the lonely, confused, elderly masses. Those who have had zero exposure to technology in the past 25 years, and/or who have no contact with anyone born after 1985, who could have explained the entire premise of BD in five minutes and a few example Google searches.

Maybe it's just my problem with nonfiction in general--I literally had to force myself to read it, it was so goddamn dry and dull*--or maybe I'm just biased because I'm a Digital Native.***

The best comparison I can up with for this is March of the Penguins. I'm assuming you've seen it. It's cute and well-intentioned, but it boils down to many, many minutes of "The penguins are walking. It is cold." This gets tedious and repetitive very quickly. There are occasional tidbits--where the penguins all merrily slide on the ice or get chased by a badass seal--that make the audience sit up and pay attention, or chuckle slightly. But then it's back to the penguins standing around in the snow.

I lied, I can think of another comparison: it's like reading a book on skydiving. You can read about it all you want, you might think you've perfected your skydiving technique based solely on the knowledge you've obtained from this large, academic book, but after all that it would probably serve you better to just go skydiving for yourself. There are some things, some experiences, that books cannot hope to capture.

I mean, it does its job, giving a nice primer on all things internetty and what we're doing with it--good and bad, pedophilic and political--but it's just not interesting. But it tries so hard. I just kind of want to pat these two fifty year old men on the head. Again, feel free to cite my position as a snobby, young digitally literate person for whom next-to-none of the information provided was new or helpful or relevant as the reason I find this so unappealing, but that's what I thought about it.

* I'm actually writing this blog-review as a means of procrastination from the assigned review I'm going to have to turn in for a grade. THE INTERNET HAS CORRUPTED ME BEYOND REPAIR IT'S GIVEN ME A SHORTENED ATTENTION SPAN OH BLOODY NO. (*end sarcastic rant*) In all seriousness, at a point I had to stop caring so much about why I disliked this book, and treat it as An Exercise In Plodding Through Walls of Boring Text, training me for whatever godforsaken tests I'll be subjected to in the near future/The Actual Future Where I Will Have A Job That Involves Reading Things.

** Not all nonfiction has to be like this, that's not what I'm saying. But well-written, captivating nonfiction, I gather, is hard to write and more based on the particular reader's subject of interest than anything.

*** If you're one for drinking games, (though I hope you aren't, really) take a shot every time you read the words "those born digital", "Digital Natives" or "young Americans". You will be in the hospital halfway through the second chapter. Learn some synonyms, guys.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The rare occasion where I've pined for another sequel and gotten my wish



This pleases me.

I suppose I should back up a bit. Did you guys ever read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series? (If yes, I hope you realize my excitement, because all of them were/are fan-frigging-tastic. If no, I urge you to read them while the genre of "Teenage friends go on adventures and develop romantic relationships" is still relevant and appealing to you.)

The book is about the Sisterhood as adults, and everything beyond that that I could possibly say is spoilers. Aside from that it is as good if not better than the previous four. And that's saying something, considering how obsessed I was with the series when I was younger. Looking back, I probably read the first one when I was about nine or ten (lol pretentious child), when being fifteen seemed so far away, and I convinced myself that by that time I would have collected a perfect, quirky group of soul sisters with whom to share clothing.* Having this standard of ideal-teen-friendship-and-summer-exploits set up for me at that age, though, made my own teenagerdom seem pretty dull. By my fourteenth birthday or so I realized my life was not meant to be these (fictional) books incarnate. In some small way, I've always regretted that. I know it's just the media I surround(ed) myself with--that which tells my these years of my life are somehow incomplete if I don't kiss boys under the stars, travel the world, drink at parties, sneak out of the house with my own girl-gang, go on road trips, etc--that has caused this disappointment. But the point is still valid: how much of this is constructed fantasy and how much of it is just my teenage life being subpar?

Anyway, back to why this book is great. I love that these characters exist canonically as mature women. Except for this and the epilogue to Harry Potter, this hardly ever happens. Adulthood makes any set of fictional people seem so much more real. Their lives are no longer confined to a certain span of documented years, the rest of them left to be vaguely defined in the minds of curious readers or by (often kind of crappy) fanfiction. There's closure. (But, as a sidenote, the book ends openly. There could be a sequel to this one and I'd be happy. Yes, there is the argument that this would be beating a dead horse, milking the dry cow of franchise for the sake of $$$, but I have a feeling it wouldn't. There's more to be said without it reaching that point.)

And now I want to read them all again, for the nostalgia. T'were simpler times.

*Minus the fact that we have nothing tangible between us, maybe this blog is like the sisterhood I yearned for at ten. The Sisterhood of the Non-traveling Blog. (Starring Vita as Bee, Alex as Lena, and me as Tibby? All we need is a feisty yet sensitive Latina to round it out. ;))

Thursday, November 3, 2011

i suck at titles but sucking is good, right?

There's this post I want to write about human nature and how it's all just a bullshit myth that we've totally bought into in order to feel we're inadequate but first I have to read a pamphlet that someone gave me. So... there's something to look forward to.

In other news, you've probably noticed it's November. Additionally, if you follow me on tumblr, you've probably been victim to my nanowrimo agonizing. I also just realized that I'm insanely insensitive to people who don't do nano due to lack of time. This is due to the fact that I have a lot of time, as much as I try to convince myself otherwise. When nanowrimo rolls around, I am all about the writing. It consumes a lot of time and I don't think about it because it gives me something to actually be doing. I used to brush off people who don't do nano for time strain reasons but no longer!

This has been short but I want to watch the last episode in season two of Doctor Who*. I've heard it sad (understatement? We shall SEE!). I am prepared with my tissues.
Best wishes!

*I know, I know--I watch television shows slowly. I'm savouring. Get over it.