Links for a Lazy Sunday

Full disclosure, I am currently at Disney World getting ready to watch my Mom run a half marathon in the Disney Princess Race. This might not sound crazy if you don’t know my mother, but let me assure you pigs have officially flown. (flew? flied? I shouldn’t be allowed to be called an English major). Anyways, if some huge piece of news or internet sensation has surfaced since I scheduled this post, my apologies.

Some Tumblrs I’ve been enjoying lately are Awesome People Reading and The Books They Gave Me and the brilliantly titled Slaughterhouse 90210. If you want to learn more about authors no one appreciates and books nobody reads you might want to check out Unjustly Unread and Writers No One Reads. 

Bridging out of the Tumblr world, I loved this blog post at The Literate Condition discussing the problems of balancing mundane duty with artistic and creative work, particularly as they relate to gender. I also enjoyed reading Do Your Really Need to Write Every Day? at Writer’s Digest, because this is something I ask myself all the time.

In other internet news I finally jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon. I don’t really know what   to do with this, but I think it could be fun. Enjoy your Sundays!

Seven Reasons to Love E-readers

Although on the Internet many people love to hate on e-readers, they are actually very popular. On Amazon the sale of e-books has surpassed “real” books. While I happily read paperbacks, hard backs, e-books, and listen to audio books, I admit that there are some things that make e-readers better (hence their impressive sales figures).

  1. E-readers hold thousands of books. I first got a Kindle during my junior year abroad in Scotland. Instead of weighing my suitcase down with books, I could take the complete works of Jane Austen and Jilly Cooper and still have room for my rain boots. Which came in handy, considering the climate.
  2. No one knows what you’re reading: very handy when you’re reading Jilly not Jane.
  3. You can share e-books.  When we got the fourth Harry Potter book, my sister and I had to alternate chapters. Now that we have the family kindle account, I have more books available, and we can all read the same books at the same time.
  4. You don’t have to choose just one book. Gone are the days where only one book fits in your purse. If you decide you don’t like a book, you can just go into your archive or download another one.
  5. Books are cheaper. Many classics are free, and new books aren’t as expensive as buying hardbacks. Less money equals more books, which equals more smiles.
  6. You can make the type bigger. This is mostly a benefit for people who’ve misplaced their glasses, but even I adjust the letter size when the lighting is low.
  7. It has opened up the publishing market through self-publishing. This means a lot of bad books, but it also means more writers are publishing.

The Name of the Star: A Blend of Genres

I have never been interested in Jack the Ripper, and am even less intrigued after reading The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. The book begins with main character Rory moving from Louisiana to a fancy London boarding school for her senior year when her parents get jobs in England, coinciding with a series of copycat murders based on the gruesome ripper killings.  As the murders begin to accumulate, the only person with a clue of what’s going in is Rory who thinks she saw a man on campus the night of one of the murders. Unfortunately, her friends did not see the form and many questions and adventures ensue.  Which is not unexpected, given that the book is, at heart, a mystery. Rory must find the identity of the killer.

While the entire book follows the conventions of a mystery, several other genres weave their way into the narrative. The first half of the novel feels like a traditional contemporary YA novel, complete with first romance, fast friends (and frienemies) and culture shock.  I loved the cleverness of Rory, the endearing, if slightly clichéd, British characters, and the culture clash between posh Britain and deep American south (both places I have briefly lived). The second half …  well I don’t want to spoil anything but it abruptly shifts in the fantasy direction.

I did enjoy this book, and it definitely made me want to read more Maureen Johnson, but there were a few things I had problems with. I thought the shift was too forced. I liked the first half, and wanted more of the real life to permeate the fantasy plot. The largest obstacle for me, were the gruesome descriptions of the murders, which would have (if you’ll excuse my pun) killed my interest in reading it. The first few pages were actually the scariest and it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.

While I found the genre bending a little jarring, I do think Johnson included something for everyone in the novel. Overall the characters were believable and interesting, the plot was fast paced, and the anglophile in me couldn’t resist the explanations of British culture.

For further reading and reviews:

The Best Thing I’ve Read This Year

I’ve read some good books, but to my surprise, and perhaps yours, the best thing I’ve read in 2012 was this month’s issue of O Magazine. It sounds a little wacky to say, but I’m not sure why I was so surprised. Almost my whole life, until last year, I feel like I’ve been a casual Oprah watcher. Starting 2 years before I was born, her show just always seemed to be on in the background. Last year, when my moving home coincided with her last season – it felt like destiny. I watched almost every episode, usually crying (even during the makeover shows) buying into the fact I needed to live my best life, light bulb moments, and even using “the secret” which I really don’t believe in to get the job I have now. When you think about it, who, that you don’t actually know, do you trust more than Oprah? I’ve asked many people this question, and the only acceptable answer so far has been Hillary Clinton. I’ve trusted Oprah with decisions from what charities to support to what tennis shoes to buy. And she, or whoever actually puts her magazine together, was in top form for this month’s “express yourself” issue.

Throughout the issue are stories of people who are expressing themselves and their creativity in really interesting ways. I was inspired by the stories inside, from a list of ways to express creativity to the story of a development director turned chocolatier to the collection of 6 word autobiographies in the back of the magazine (my favorite were “Might as well eat that cookie” by Paula Deen, and “Mission accomplished but will consider reincarnation” by Alexandra Liosatos). I like that the magazine took a big theme, but didn’t stay too serious. It covered physical and mental health, clothing, cooking, money (I hate Suze Orman!) writing, and reading. There was even an article on how to wear cat themed make up.

My favorite article by far was on being an introvert, by Susan Cain who just wrote a book called The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I liked hearing about an introvert, whose success doesn’t stem from pretending to be outgoing. Susan attributes her personal and professional success to her ability to listen, communicate her point of view calmly, and work well alone. “Instead of worrying that I’m too introverted,” Susan writes. “I now worry that our culture is not introverted enough.” Being in a situation where I am spending most of my time putting on a bit of a front, giving tours and pretending that I know what I am talking about at work, I Susan’s message felt particularly relevant.

I read this magazine in one sitting while watching silly TV on Saturday morning. It made me feel better about myself, and gave me a jolt of motivation to reopen the novel’s first draft and start making some much-needed changes.  The articles do make me worry, that I am settling. They make me wonder, if my dream is to be an author – why am I not committing everything to that? But even if I’m not ready to give myself an answer, that’s a good question to be asking.  So if you’re going to the dentist this week, skip Cosmo and grab O Magazine. And if you trust a public figure more than Oprah, comment below. I’m still waiting for someone I trust more, and am glad even without the show I can still get my Oprah fix.

Looking for Alaska: Therein Lies the Paradox

There’s a stage I remember in high school where everything becomes a paradox. Even things that are completely straightforward suddenly have two opposing sides. Looking for Alaska, by John Green, and they way I feel about the book, brought me back to that time. And I can’t decide if that was the genius or flawed quality of the writing. To me, the book seemed like a strange combination of very interesting but not believable or relatable characters and very ordinary but marvelously described situations.

The characters all seemed to be to fit into the categories of cliché or anti-cliché. The protagonist,  Miles/Pudge (so nicknamed because of his scrawny stature), is the smart unpopular kid who never fit in at home but makes friends with a group of outsiders (a paradox in itself, perhaps, but maybe I’m stretching) when he decides to spend 11th grade at his father’s old boarding school. This band of misfits is made up of his roommate (the bitter but brilliant scholarship student from a trailer park), Takumi (a stereotype defining Asian rapper), at times Lara(the attractive but shy Russian exchange student) and the center of the book (and title character) Alaska.

We learn a lot about all of the characters, their back-stories, motivations, and goals. But the way we learn them is very upfront and unnatural. The characters feel the need to explain themselves to Miles/Pudge when they meet. You’re understanding of the characters does not develop through out the book. They are interesting, but static. Especially Alaska, who is a fair portrayal of the common female character, who is so different and amazing that everyone reveres her (think zooey deschanel in 500 Days of Summer or Zelda Fitzgerald).

By contrast the plot is fairly predictable. Pudge gets “corrupted” into a fairly genial world of sneaking cigarettes, drinking bad wine, a prank war with the rich and oh so preppy “weekday warriors” and his first sexual experiences along with dealing with religious questions and feeling both drawn to and independent from his parents.  Instead of being boring, these sections were so accurately written they remained interesting while being universal. I kept thinking that’s exactly how I felt but explained in better words.

The book was slow going in the beginning, but by the end I felt compelled to finish it quickly. I said I had to run errands during my lunch break, and finished the car in the parking lot of the CVS. With all the hype and praise for John Green’s new book “The Fault in Our Stars” I will definitely follow up with that one soon. But part of me think it’s fun to discover a new author, by reading their first published book.

For further reading and review check out: