Thursday, January 24, 2013

Some Favorite Quotes

Actual second semester starts next week, which I Do Not Want. At all. I think grades are also coming out soon, which I want Even Less. But in the meantime, at least I've been being good about writing. 2,500 words today! I've also been reading more than usual. My goal for this year is 50 books. That's about a book a week. Which is pretty ambitious for me, but I'm assuming I'll do a lot of catching up over the summer as I'll probably lag during the semester. I've already read five in the new year, so I'm on track. I'll do a recap, probably, when I get to ten.

Oh, and if there are any really great debut novels out there, I'd love to hear about it. Especially contemporary, but any genre is okay. I feel like I've been sticking pretty tightly to known authors recently, and I like new discoveries.

I read a really good quote from Please Ignore Vera Dietz today, and it made me think about some of my favorite quotes from novels. Obviously, there are a lot of great lines out there, and I have the misfortune of only having a limited number of books with me in Massachusetts. But here are five that I love and that I have on digital post-its on my laptop to remind me of how wonderful language is. (None of these are spoilers, by the way. I don't think they give away anything that isn't self-evident in the first ten pages of the book.)

"They skipped over me like a space between words." -- Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

"As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once." -- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

"I die, Jane. The world grows more gorgeous every day. I am only forty-six — that may seem old to you now but a day will come (and sooner than you think) when forty-six seems very young indeed. I am only forty-six and it would seem tragic but for one thing. In you, I found infinity; in you, I was reborn." -- Margarettown by Gabrielle Zevin

"It is just that she was fifteen once for the first time, and Peter walked across her heart and left his footprints there." -- Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

And maybe most importantly:

"Tell them stories." -- The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Happy reading! (And writing, if you are.)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book Rant: Everybody Sees The Ants

Lucky Linderman didn't ask for his life. He didn't ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn't ask for a father who never got over it. He didn't ask for a mother who keeps pretending their dysfunctional family is fine. And he didn't ask to be the target of Nader McMillan's relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.

But Lucky has a secret--one that helps him wade through the mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Laos--the prison his grandfather couldn't escape--where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It's dangerous and wild, and it's a place where his life just might be worth living. But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way inside?

Michael L. Printz Honor recipient A.S. King's smart, funny and boldly original writing shines in this powerful novel about learning to cope with the shrapnel life throws at you--and taking a stand against it.

I cleaned out the Harvard Book Store of A.S. King books. Next on my list is Please Ignore Vera Dietz (Printz Honor book). This is the same author, by the way, that wrote Ask The Passengers, but I haven't gotten to that one yet.

I think one of the major selling points about King's books is that she does modern magic realism. I don't see a whole lot of that in contemporary fiction, and she does it so well. Plus, this is a realistic, tasteful book on bullying with a likable instead of annoying, doormat male main character. The blurb says that everybody can see the ants, and everybody has a little of Lucky inside of them. It's true. Even though the level of bullying Lucky experiences has never happened to me and is utterly horrifying, I can sympathize with his plight in a very personal way. I know what it's like to think nobody wants to be friends with you, that there is nothing interesting about you. I think this is something everybody has experienced, and King brings out the pain of knowing that. She has written a book about the real thoughts of suicide from teenagers, and I would stake a bet that people are lying if they have never at least wondered about suicide. If you haven't, you are a rare breed. I have never been suicidal, but because teenaged emotions are so strong and often seem to be like the Most Profound of all things, I have certainly thought about what it would be like to kill myself (without any intention of actually doing so). It's like wondering what it would be like to attend your own funeral, and what people would say about you.

(I really hope I'm not the only weird one, and that my assumption that people think about this stuff is true.)

I love that this book has supporting characters that are flawed. I love that Granddad and Lucky's parents, Aunt Jodi and Uncle Dave -- even Charlotte Dent, a character that gets almost zero actual page time -- have a level of depth that you know is unbelievably difficult to accomplish if you have ever tried to write a novel. King is thorough and thoughtful, and genuinely an extremely good writer.

Her plot is quiet, but weirdly, very profound -- not in that way that some YA authors are, where they're actively trying to make their books seem profound. She does it effortlessly, almost as an afterthought. It makes you think. It makes you wonder. She is growing on me as one of the really notable YA contemporary writers (obviously, I am behind, as the Printz award committee has already figured that out). I don't know that I had a eureka moment after finishing and felt like it was a life-altering book. But it was solid and pretty flawless as far as I was concerned. That's all you can ask for, and so rarely do you get it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


I haven't written original fiction since last summer, and I am so excited to start again. The thing is, when I'm in between projects, I tend to have months of dry spell (last thing I wrote was Percy fic in October), and that's not very good. And you know what makes me start writing again?

Being unhappy.

I realize that sounds super unhealthy, but for whatever reason, I rarely start projects when I'm in a good place. That doesn't mean I am ALWAYS unhappy when I write. I'm usually pretty happy. But it takes a moment of true misery to get me going on a new project. When I started writing original fiction, it was freshman year of college, and I was lonely and unhappy, and fiction is the thing I do when I don't want to deal with reality. Novels, I can count on. They have a beginning and an actual resolution, and a protagonist who goes through a character arc, and a level of predictability that real life can never have. For a control freak like me, novels are comforting. Second semester of that terrible freshman year, I wrote an entire novel for the first time, and that's how it started.

Writing makes me happy. I can be unhappy, but then when I have a project to concentrate on, I am in general a much more joyful person. I don't know if this a prescribed coping mechanism, or if it's dysfunctional, or whatever, but it's what works for me.

I really hope I can keep this up through second semester, when I know I will ACTUALLY be busy again (right now, I'm in J-Term, which means we only have one class per day and it's pass/fail). Anyway, I wrote the first 1,000 words of a new project, titled The Earth Between Us. It's about a girl who spends her summer studying cemeteries. I'm not totally clear on where this plot is going, but what's best for me now is probably to just get some words on a page and get the ideas going. I already feel like something that has been missing in my life for a long time has come back, and I feel much, much better. I love writing. Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

I didn’t intend on spending my summer around dead people. To be fair, I wasn’t spending a whole lot of time around the living either, so maybe it didn’t make that much of a difference. But I had planned on being mostly in the basement of our suburban home, friendless except for Charlotte Brontë (who is, in fact, dead) and Elmer.

Elmer also doesn’t count as a living person, as he is a cat. Why Elmer? Who knows. My sister named him that when we brought him home as a kitten. Said he looked like an Elmer. I’m not sure what she meant, but he looks like a tabby cat. Sunburst orange with darker stripes. Like so many other things, my sister lost interest in the cat once he stopped being a kitten and stopped being cute. She left the name behind, though. That’s what we’ve called him ever since.

Anyway, I read somewhere once that cats carry some kind of weird parasite that makes people prone to suicide, and so the stereotype of the crazy cat lady might actually hold water. Owning a cat automatically ups the chances that you’ll develop depression, probably not want to see people, and then die alone. And then on top of that, everybody knows that dentists have the highest rate of depression among any occupation.

What happened was this.
My father is a dentist. My sister and I have model-caliber teeth as a result. But in April, my father did what any person who is employed in the field of dentistry and owns a partially overweight cat is apparently extra-prone to do: he had a nervous breakdown.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bad News (For My Wallet) & Miscellaneous Items

(Check out my review of Me Before You that I also posted today. But if you don't, here's the quick summary: go read it right now.)

Guys, books are kind of expensive. Which is good, because I'm all about supporting the publishing industry. But I just discovered there's an independent bookstore like 5 minutes away from me, and it does cool stuff like allow you to pre-order The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson and get it as a signed copy with stickers. I am a whore for signed books.

So that's what I did today. And also, I bought Everybody Sees The Ants by A.S. King, which I'm excited to read. I have a Kindle, but I would say I buy about 50-50 print versus e-book. It's still nice to feel a hard copy in your hands.

Buuut, print books are somewhat more expensive than e-books, so I can already feel the danger of living close to a bookstore. I'm going to spend so much money, it's problematic. Especially as I'm a poor student. Anyway, I don't know how many people go to indie bookstores instead of big chains, but it kind of feels good to say I'm supporting a local bookstore rather than a behemoth?

I mean, I'm still mad that Borders is gone, and begrudge Barnes & Noble for being the only major bookseller left.

Other cool thing that I learned yesterday. LOIS LOWRY LIVES IN CAMBRIDGE? Not that I'm going to stalk her or anything, but I might memorize her photo and try to casually run into her in parks and bookstores. Which is totally not stalking, because as I learned in class the other day, the criminal stalking statute in Massachusetts requires the victim have a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury in addition to three instances of harassment and a state of mind at the level of purpose with regard to conduct.

Fun facts for if you ever visit Massachusetts. But hopefully, you never stalk anybody anywhere?

And I want to start writing again. Soon. But man, staring a blank page is hard, so hard.

Book Rant: Me Before You

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

I don't like this cover. Or the blurb. Or really anything about the way this book is marketed, because it's not true to the tone or plot at all. The disconnect is jarring, really. All of the descriptions and the visual of the cover make this book look like a fluffy and quirky YA contemporary romance. Could not be further from the truth. The book features a 26-year-old protagonist, so it's definitely not YA. Also, it's about a quadriplegic who wants to end his life. It's very heavy material, and it's pretty unromantic, in that sense.

What I really like about this book is that it handles a sensitive issue in a realistic way and never at any point feels as if it's pushing an agenda. I am fine with books that deal with controversial political issues, as long as the characters act on their beliefs and the characters don't act on the author's beliefs. I don't want to feel like the author's views are coming through, even if I agree with those views. I am also fascinated with right to die as a concept, and I have to say it is one issue, despite the fact that I generally lean liberal, where I am actually unsettled on what I believe. So I liked exploring the more emotional side to assisted suicide here.

But most importantly, wow. The book is brilliantly written, and truly engrossing. I read it in one afternoon. It is a little bit hard to get into at first because Lou is not the most engaging character at first (and neither is Will), but once the plot picks up, you really get into it. And by the end, the book has you wrapped around its pages, and you won't be able extricate yourself from the tragedy unfolding before you. And you won't want to.