Life As We Knew It: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

In Life As We Knew It, by Susan Pfeffer, sixteen-year-old, Miranda, records her family’s struggles after a meteor strikes the moon in her diary. It is a slightly disconcerting book to read, while waiting for the “Frankenstorm”, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it … and made my mother go back to the grocery store to get a few more cans of black beans. Just in case.

The book succeeds on three levels, which in my book is pretty impressive. Level one, is what I like to call The Anne Frank Test. Which is to say that even in the midst of terrible tragedy/upheaval Miranda is a believable teenager who still cares about boys, her appearance, and her hair.

Level two, consists of a believability of the natural disaster/end of the worldish setting of the book. I don’t exactly understand the science of what would happen if the moon was knocked off its normal gravitational route. But I believe Pfeffer’s description, from the changes in the weather to medical epidemics and emergencies. The government and social responses also seem believable to me.

While Miranda tries to survive with her mother and two brothers, all of them show moments of great bravery, and moments of moral weakness. Their complex reactions draw on each character’s history and position with in the family.

The third level of success is that the book deals with complicated issues and doesn’t try to simplify them.  Religion, divorce, social responsibility, gender roles, and facing death all play prominent roles. Perhaps the thing I had the most trouble with, was the unexamined and accepted fact that men would survive better in a true disaster. However, the fact that it was unexamined seemed to me to make a stronger statement than if they had talked it to death. In fact, it seemed to mirror global gender issue I was constantly learning about when I worked at Save the Children (sons being fed more than daughters in food crises, parents unlikely to seek medical help for their girls, etc.).

Life As We Knew It is by no means a new favorite of mine. However, it was an almost perfectly constructed, interesting, and fast-paced read. If you have a little time and inclination, I can recommend it. Now back to building a wall of diapers to keep the basement from flooding!

Six things I learned about J.K. Rowling on Charlie Rose

This morning, my grandfather emailed me a link to watch a recent interview of J.K. Rowling on Charlie Rose. Papa, in his own words, is one of the only people in America who hasn’t read the Harry Potter books, but I think he likes watching J.K. Rowling interviews because of her extreme success.

Watching this interview, reminded me of how much I like watching them too. J.K. Rowling on the Oprah Winfrey Show is permanently saved on my DVR. Not only am I interested as a HP fan and aspiring writer, but also because she comes across as a thoughtful and intelligent person.

You can watch the hour-long interview, here. 

If you don’t have the time/inclination to watch, here are some of the things that I enjoyed the most:

  • J.K. Rowling said her biggest obsessions were morality and mortality. I love that these have alliteration and rhyme (or at least slant rhyme). That’s hard to do!
  • The way she writes and her desire to write haven’t changed since the huge Harry Potter success (or so she says).
  • She is happiest when she’s 2/3 of the way through a project and she has all day to write.
  • She can write for eight hours straight.
  • She works on several different writing projects at the same time. She actually wrote almost an entire different’ children’s book while she was supposed to be writing the Harry Potter books.
  • She had the idea for Harry Potter on a train, and the idea for The Casual Vacancy on a plane. What’s next an automobile?

 

Wordless Wednesday: Literary Castles

                            Elsinore: the castle from Hamlet

             Castle Howard: from Brideshead Revisited

               Whitby Abbey: inspiration for Dracula

                Conisbrough Castle: from Ivanhoe

              Brodsworth Hall: from Bleak House

             Tintagel Castle: from Arthurian Legends

Marry Date or Dump: The Volturi

They are everyone’s favorite vampire royals. If you HAD to marry, date and dump each one, which Voluturi would you choose for which role? Let me know in the comments. People with reasons get extra credit!

Aro Volturi, who can read every thought a person has ever had once he has made physical contact

Marcus Volturi, who senses the strength and nature of relationships

Caius Volturi, who has no known powers

 

 

The Book Thief: A Holocaust Novel with a Twist

There is an incredibly amount of hype and acclaim surrounding The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak and it is all deserved. It is successfully conceptual in the best possible way. It is an innovative book for young people (although I think it was more literary fiction than young adult fiction) about the Holocaust – which is not small feat.

The book is basically a series of narrative lyric poems, following young German orphan Liesel Meminger, living in a poor neighborhood outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. The twist, besides the poetic quality, is that the book is narrated by Death.

Liesel deals with the tragedy and lack of control in her life through an impressive career of stealing books. Seeing her grow up, watching her neighborhood transform through the stages of WW2, and hearing the viewpoint of death camps, conditions for Soviet soldiers, and the Normandy invasion all through the lens of Death is fascinating. It is strange twist on the omnipresent narrator.

The characters in Liesel’s life are richly imagined and complexly explained. A particular favorite is her best friend, who after the 1936 achieves neighborhood fame by covering his entire body in coal dust and pretending to be Jesse Owens.

Without giving any spoilers away, I will say the book contains a lot of the traditional elements of holocaust fiction (i.e. main character realizing Jews are not the enemy, etc.). What is nontraditional, aside from the POV, writing style, and structure, is the theme of the importance of words, reading, writing and books. The books in Liesel’s collection, ranging from a grave digging how to guide, to a banned book stolen from a bonfire, to a handmade account of a Jew – all have symbolic and thematic significance.

My only criticism is that while the book is beautiful, I didn’t find it engaging. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it.