Sunday, December 13, 2015

All I Want for Christmas is... More Books

It's finally the holiday season, and you know what that means--peppermint mochas, lots of lights, and cozying up by the fireplace. But when I'm snowed in for the day and have nothing to do but cuddle up in a fluffy blanket, I'm going to want a good book in my hands. So for Christmas this year, I asked for several great books to keep me entertained all season long. Here's a list of my top 5 reads in case you're looking to add to your winter book collection, too.

1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
     This is a World War II novel, which is what initially grabbed my attention. The story begins when the Allies start shelling the French city of Saint-Malo to drive out Nazi troops. From there, we follow Laure, a blind French girl who had previously escaped to Saint-Malo with her uncle, and Werner, a radio expert in the German army who is stuck in the city when the attack begins. Through a series of short, well-crafted scenes over both perspectives and myriads of time, we are presented with a bittersweet and haunting love story.

2. In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen
     Set in winter of 1992, three groups of teenagers go to see the movie version of a famous comic book series. Adam goes in a last-ditch effort to win over the girl he's crushed on for years in Florida before he leaves for good. Sharon (an avid fan) skips school in Cincinnati so that she can appreciate it without her annoying friends. And in Chicago, Phoebe and Ollie are at the movie for a first date. This story follows the characters for two decades, watching them cross the globe and become entwined in friendship, ambition, sex, and tragedy.

3. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
     This story follows Rachel, a girl who takes the same commuter train every day. Every morning, the train flashes past suburban homes and stops where Rachel watches the same couple eating breakfast on their deck. It's almost as if she knows them: Jess and Jason. Their life seems perfect (not unlike the life she's lost). And then something unexpected happens and everything changes. Rachel must offer everything she knows to the police and becomes entwined in what happens next, as well as who is involved.

4. Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer
     Area X is a remote and lush location that has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. What was left of human civilization has now been taken over by nature. The first expedition returned with reports of a beautiful landscape; every member of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died when the members turned against each other; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months, died of cancer. This story follows the twelfth expedition.

5. Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer
     If you're a fan of Mad Men, this book might be for you. Anna Wyatt is an account executive, recently divorced, and has done a lot of emotional cleansing. But now she's 40 and can't figure out what she needs. As she tries to win over an important new client, she discovers a self-help book that offers her unexpected insights and takes her to a romance writers' conference. Now she needs to sign the Romance Cover Model of the Year Pageant winner (and meet the author who inspired her to take control of her life) in order to win the account.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

12 of the Best Classic Literary Quotes

In my years of middle and high school required readings and reading for personal satisfaction, I've come across my fair share of literary classics.  A lot of my books look like I painted them with highlighters, because if there's one thing I love about books, it's pertinent quotes.  Here are 12 of my favorite quotes from some of my favorite stories:

1. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
      from The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

2. "He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking."
      from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

3. "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same."
      from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

4. "You don't have to live forever, you just have to live."
      from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

5. "A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing, and leaves the sleeper where he lay down, but I wish you to know that you inspired it."
      from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

6. "Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt."
     from Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

7. "Maybe there is a beast... Maybe it's only us."
     from Lord of the Flies by William Golding

8. "I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only.  I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary."
     from Variations on the Word Sleep by Margaret Atwood

9. "She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her."
     from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

10. "Sometimes we get sad about things and we don't like to tell other people that we are sad about them.  We like to keep it a secret.  Or sometimes, we are sad but we really don't know why we are sad, so we say we aren't sad but we really are."
     from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

11. "Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot."
     from Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

12. "Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life."
     from The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" and Depression

It's not every day that you get excited to read about mental illness.  When I picked up Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story, I thought it was pretty sick to claim that depression is in any sense a "funny story".  But I shouldn't have judged this book by its cover.

It's Kind of a Funny Story is the tale of New York City teenager, Chris Gilner.  His goal in life is to get into the right school to get into the right college to get into the right job.  But the pressure is crippling, and he stops eating and sleeping and nearly kills himself.  So he gets checked into a mental hospital, where he meets a transsexual sex addict, a girl who scarred her face with scissors, and several other characters.  His experiences at the hospital finally help him confront his demons and live through his depression.

I love this story so much because it shows the true tragedy of depression.  Many stories often try to glorify or even degrade depression, but It's Kind of a Fu

nny Story is honest.  The Washington Post reviewed it as: "Funny... [Vizzini] supplies personal insights and a clever, self-deprecating tone that make the book an entertaining read."

The most tragic thing about It's Kind of a Funny Story, though, is the fact that its author (Ned Vizzini) was himself struggling with depression when he wrote this book.  He spent time in a psychiatric hospital and created a moving story about an unexpected road to happiness.  Vizzini committed suicide in December of 2013 (7 years after his most famous book was published).

In 2010, a movie adaptation of It's Kind of a Funny Story was released, starring Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, and Emma Roberts.  While the characters stray a little bit from the book, the movie version follows the plot pretty closely, so I didn't absolutely hate it.  If you're interested in It's Kind of a Funny Story, though, I would recommend reading the book instead.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Reading and Writing: Important Aspects of Your Morning Routine

As a senior in high school, I'm looking forward to spending my next few years away at college.  However, if anything, this year has taught me how to be self-sufficient.  In college, I won't have parents to nag me about getting homework done or cleaning up after myself.  I have to learn how to do those things on my own.  This year, especially, I've focused on getting myself awake and ready to face the day, even during the wee hours of the morning.  So I created a morning routine that's designed to motivate me to get out of bed and ready for my early classes.  Here's what I do.

  • Mediation
I spend the first 10-15 minutes of the morning quietly meditating so that I can cast out all anxiety.  I know it makes me sound like a spiritualistic hippy or something, but trust me, meditation works.  Personally, I like to use the Stop, Breathe, & Think app.  You select how you're feeling at the present moment and the app suggests different meditations to try and center yourself.
  • Goals
Next, I write down what I wish to accomplish during the day.  Whether it be small tasks like getting to school early or larger ones like finishing a paper, writing down what I want to get done makes me feel even better when I can cross each one off.
  • Exercise
I usually hate exercise, but this is one of the few things that gets me motivated for the day.  I use the Sworkit app for 10-15 minutes each morning.  The workouts are in 30-second intervals, so the time flies by and makes your morning speed along.
  • Reading
This is the most important aspect of my mornings.  I pick out a great, interesting book or article to read for 10-20 minutes over a cup of coffee.  It's critical that you pick out something you're interested in, or the reading will send you right back to Snooze Town.  If you can't think of a book, look up an article on NPR or even BuzzFeed.  Getting your mind flowing early in the morning will make your school work seem less dull.
  • Writing
Right after I change out of my jammies and into my regular clothes, I crack open my journal and write some stuff down.  It doesn't have to be world-changing ideas, just whatever's on my mind.  If I can't think of anything to write, I have another journal with 300 writing prompts.  Again, it's critical to get your brain used to working in the morning, or school is just going to be even more miserable.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bum Rush the Page: American Poetry at Its Peak

I've never been fond of poetry.  Whenever my English teachers would start the poetry unit, I would shut down and hope to God that I could make it out alive.  I can't write poetry, for one thing--that is an art, and I truly respect those who can write beautifully convincing poems.  Also, I can't annotate poems to save my life.  Poetry does not come naturally to me.

When I was assigned Bum Rush the Page (a collection of works from hundreds of contemporary poets), I knew I would hate every single second of it.  So the night before the reading was due, I shut myself off in my bedroom and forced myself to read.  I read the first poem: We Have Been Believers by Margaret Walker.  Not bad, I thought, if only I could write as eloquently as that.  So I turned to the second piece: A Poet Is Not a Juke Box by Dudley Randall.  That's when I fell in love with this collection.

Randall's piece hit me especially hard because his voice was so compelling.  I had never read a poem that made me really feel something until I read this.  I felt contempt, compassion, and even anger because of the tone he used.  As a writer, I've always struggled with using the correct tone, so I really admired Randall for his strong voice.

But the beautiful poetry didn't end there.  The entire collection was just as incredibly moving.  The poets featured in Bum Rush the Page were not the same old Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, or Robert Frost poets--no, these writers bring a new sense of energy and life to American poetry.  Their works showcase the trials of life as an American minority.  Unsympathetic and absolutely heart-breaking, their stories return the spotlight to issues that are continually swept under the rug.  Issues like oppression and poverty illuminate the difficulty and inevitability of social change in this country.  Tony Medina, the collection's editor, wrote: "Here is a democratic orchestration of voices and visions, poets of all ages, ethnicities, and geographic locations coming together to create a dialogue and to jam--not slam. This is our mouth on paper, our hearts on our sleeves, our refusal to shut up and swallow our silence. These poems are tough, honest, astute, perceptive, lyrical, blunt, sad, funny, heartbreaking, and true. They shout, they curse, they whisper, and sing. But most of all, they tell it like it is."

Before I read Bum Rush the Page, I had never heard of a poet "telling it like it is".  But now, I am inspired by these poets who speak directly to me.  Their work is indescribable.  I can only hope that in future years, I will not forget their words that were so beautifully shoved down my throat--I hope that I can share these works with future teachers, friends, and students.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

There was a boy who lived in a closet... And it wasn't Harry Potter

Jennifer Niven's breakout young adult novel All the Bright Places raises quite a few discussions on mental health, depression, anxiety, and suicide--and that's just the start.

All the Bright Places was recommended to me by a friend of mine who works at DePauw University's bookstore.  She said that since I liked The Fault in Our Stars, I would absolutely adore Niven's novel.  Though I absolutely loved this book, I didn't find that many similarities between it and John Green's book.  Honestly, the only similarity I found was that both included death.

The story starts out with Theodore Finch standing on the sixth story of the school's bell tower.  Arms extended, feet curling the edges of the railing, he excitedly welcomes his spectators to his death.  But then he sees Violet Markey, also atop the bell tower and possibly planning her death as well.  Violet is looking for any reason to live, while Finch (bipolar and obsessed with death) can't find a reason not to die.  Together, they embark on a journey to find all of the "bright places" that Indiana has to offer (for a school project, of course)--finding scenes such as a vacant lot of book-mobiles and a man who builds roller coasters in his backyard.  The story delves into the harsh reality that it is a terrible feeling to love someone and not be able to help them.

Niven's book has just the right amount of everything you want in a young adult novel: from romance and adventure to heartbreak and bullying.  This book wasn't afraid to discuss mental illness, and for that I really respect Niven.  It's hard to write about something as real and harmful as depression, but it's also very important for teen readers to understand the effects that mental illness has.  Teens need to understand that they are not alone and that they do not have to feel the things they feel--and Niven does a beautiful job of portraying mental illness for what it is: parasitic and very, very destructive.

If you're looking for a young adult novel that isn't afraid to stray from the norm every now and then, check out Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places.  You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

9 Classical Novels You MUST Read Before You Die

As an avid lover of books, it's important for me to read everything I can--from the contemporary young adult novels of John Green and Veronica Roth, to classics like Fitzgerald and Hemingway.  But if you have even the slightest interest in anything to do with literature or composition, you're going to have to be able to read and comprehend major classical works.  In my four years of high school, I've read some greats: To Kill A Mockingbird, The Bluest Eye, and 1984--just to name a few.  But as a future English lit major and hopeful English professor/writer, I know I'm going to read more in the coming years.  So here's a list of 9 of my favorite classical novels so far, and why everyone needs to read them to understand pop culture references and just become better, more educated human beings.

1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
     This novel holds some really great allegorical references, and it's disturbing to see how badly everything can go when the common rules of civilization go away.  This story gives a bleak vision of human nature.

2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
     Not only does this story contain amazing historical references, but the story itself is deeply moving and emotional.

3. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
     This novel covers so many themes (like death and sacrifice).  It also differs from other novels about war because it focuses on mainly one character.

4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
     This is the dystopian novel.  One of the most often challenged novels of all time, it's important to understand why.

5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
     This book is honestly nuts--it's all over the place, but the journalistic style is super interesting.  Plus, it's non-fiction.

6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
     Another frequently challenged novel, this story is funny, sad, and incredibly moving.  Also, Nurse Ratched is terrifying.

7. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
     Themes on themes on themes.  Losing your attractiveness sucks, but not as much as losing your soul.  Everyone hated this book when it was released, but now it's a classic that absolutely cannot be overlooked.

8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
     This novel hits the whole revenge theme hard.  It's set in post-Bonaparte France and beautifully captivates the writing style of adventure novels (intrigue, romance, power struggles--Dumas has it all).  Also, the ending is probably the most beautiful conclusion you'll ever read.

9. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
     This novel is witty and genius.  A brilliantly suggestive and resonant insight into human duality.  Stevenson says that his inspiration came to him in a dream, which is honestly pretty disturbing if you ask me.

As an aspiring writer, I can only hope that one of my stories would make it on a bookshelf--let alone on a required reading list.  So, what do you think?  Have you read the books on this list, or are you writing them down to check out the next time you go to the library?  What are your favorite classic works?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Getting Lost with Adi Alsaid

This summer, my ultimate goal was to read, read, read.  But then I got busy--I went to Italy, I worked at my local theater, and I basically spent three months trying to make every single second of my summer worth it.  So, naturally, I didn't get a chance to read very much.  I did, though, get to read Adi Alsaid's breakthrough novel, Let's Get Lost.

Let's Get Lost is faintly similar to John Green's Paper Towns (and the film version of this novel dropped this summer, which was pretty fitting).  In Alsaid's novel, the story shifts viewpoints through four different characters, all intertwined through one single character--Leila.

Now, my main focus when I picked up this book was that it was going to be my summer read.  This was my beach book, my airplane book, and my "I really don't feel like watching all 10 seasons of Friends again, so I'll just read this book" book.  I didn't want something that was going to force me to think too much--and that's exactly what I got.  Let's Get Lost is fast-paced and, at times, way too predictable.  But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy this book--no, I actually really loved this book.

So, yeah, I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who's looking for a quick read (the book is over 300 pages, but I read it in a couple of days).  If you want something that has a little bit of romance, a little bit of adventure, and a little bit of mystery, you need to pick this up.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Beauty (and the Beastliness) of e-books

In this ever-advancing world of technology, it's easy for us readers to forget the magic that a book gives us.  I mean, it's much easier to read a summary or reviews of a book, or even just watch the movie to see what it was about, amirite?  And even if we do hunker down and read the book, do we go out and buy the physical copy?  Actually, most of us might.  Studies show that printed books are still the fan favorite, but e-book sales are rapidly increasing.  We've seen digital copies of music nearly destroy physical CD sales-- who's to say that books won't be next?

While e-books definitely have their advantages, physical copies (to me, at least) should remain the preferred version of books for as long as books continue to be released.  Here's why:

Pros of e-books:

  1. e-books are easier to carry around.  An e-reader is, at most, probably a couple of pounds.  And you can carry an entire library around on that thing!  You can also pick whatever book you want to read--you're not going to have to bring 3 or 4 different books to the beach with you because you can't decide which one to read first.
  2. e-books are easier to access.  Living in my small town, I only get the opportunity to go to a bookstore on the weekends--and most weekends, I don't have time for a 45-minute drive (both ways) just to buy a book.  With e-books, you can buy any book you want from the comfort of your own bed.
  3. e-books are easier to highlight text in.  With a physical copy of a book, you have to remember to bring your highlighter everywhere with you (and the ink sometimes bleeds through the pages.)  On an e-reader, you can select exactly where you want your highlight to go without it looking sloppy.
Cons of e-books:
  1. e-books are hard to read.  Personally, I can't read long bits of text on a backlit screen.  My eyes just can't comprehend the words and I end up with a killer headache.  And if you're out in the sun, backlit screens don't light well.  Also, your battery is bound to die quickly because backlit screens cause a short battery life.  I hate getting to the climax of the novel and my e-reader dying--trust me, there's nothing worse.
  2. e-books are nearly impossible to write notes in.  I love taking notes in my books, especially if I'm reading the book for a class.  With a physical book, I can just whip out a pen and jot notes in all the margins--on an e-book, you usually have to add a comment or a note and type it out.  Then when you go to review the book for a test or a paper, you have to scroll through the book and find little bookmarkers that show where you took notes.  It's inconvenient.
  3. e-books don't look as pretty.  You have to admit, a bookshelf with hundreds of differently shaped and colored books is just about as beautiful as anything on this earth can be.  e-readers are boring--they're just a gray block with a screen. 
No matter which way you go (whether it be an e-book or a physical copy), purchasing a book is better than nothing.  Don't be lazy and just watch the movie.  Invest yourself in a book.  It'll pay off in the long run.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Game of Cat & Maus

As a high school senior, I've spent my fair share of time reading and watching various depictions of Holocaust survival tales.  By this point in my life, I'm absolutely sick of hearing about the Holocaust. Yes, it was a terrible atrocity and needs to be addressed so that the world never repeats itself--but there's only so much death and carnage a reader can take.

That was my mindset when I walked into my first day as a DePauw University alpha student.  At my high school, juniors and seniors are given an amazing opportunity to have a taste of what college is really like and enroll in entry-level college courses.  This year, I was enrolled in an ENG 171A class.  The broadly categorized course of "Intercultural Perspectives" left me with about 15 weeks to read 11 novels with topics ranging from Buddhist cuisine to African-American hair.

So, naturally, I huffed a little when my professor said the first novel we would read was a graphic novel about the Holocaust.  Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, who was a Holocaust survivor.  I was sure I knew what would happen in this book--lots of death, lots of despair, and lots of tears.  What I didn't know, though, was how incredibly and beautifully moving this novel was and how deeply it would impact my view on Holocaust literature.

Maus, as the front cover gives away, is told allegorically through mice (Jews) and cats (Nazis).  This allegory isn't so hard to figure out--Spiegelman has turned the Holocaust into a game of cat and mouse.  And that's what it was, right?  However, when the book was first released, this sparked a lot of controversy.  How could Spiegelman relate such terrible people as fluffy cats?  How could he make Jews seem like lesser people by making them rodents--the scum of the earth?  But I think that was his plan entirely.  Spiegelman wanted to truly capture the essence of the time period, and at that moment in time, that's how Jews and Nazis were viewed.  The Jews really were the scum of the earth: they were dirty, they were revolting, and no one wanted to be around them.  The Nazis, on the other hand, were menacing, sneaky, and chased after their common enemy.  Later in the novels, Spiegelman introduces us to the Poles (who are depicted as pigs).  This allegory actually works pretty well, too: when you call someone a pig, what are you calling them?  Greedy, just like the Poles in Maus are.

The most interesting (and probably most controversial) thing about Maus, though, is the fact that the story is told through comics.  When most people think of comic books or graphic novels, we think of superheroes and imaginary, fantastical situations.  And I think that's what I love most about Maus--the fact that Art Spiegelman took something as horrific as the Holocaust and made it into a comic book.  The story is still heart-wrenching; at some times, it's even more realistic because we are given an incredible insight into Vladek's world that (as second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors) we've never truly been able to picture.  Spiegelman's character even says in Maus: Part II that he feels "so inadequate trying to reconstruct a reality that was worse than [his] darkest dreams."  

If you ever get the opportunity to dive into Maus, please do.  Since it's a graphic novel, it takes maybe two or three hours to finish--and that's if you're really studying it.  I never thought I would enjoy another Holocaust novel after The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but honestly, Maus is one of my favorite novels--period.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

An Introduction to The Book Report

Welcome to my very first (and probably most poorly written) blog post for The Book Report.  Thanks for clicking my link and giving me a chance!!

Ever since my first day of kindergarten, I have loved the world of books.  My grandparents took me to the public library twice a week, where I would check out several Junie B. Jones books at a time and finish them before I got home that night.  From there, I delved into several fictional worlds through books like Harry Potter and Paper Towns.  I've been reading ever since.

In a society filled with television and e-books, you rarely find a person who can understand the thrill of picking up an actual book.  If you're looking for someone who appreciates the beauty of ink on paper and the antiquated appeal of a book that's clearly been read several times over, keep reading.

This blog will (hopefully):
   1. Dive into specific novels (whether they be classic or contemporary) and discuss literary devices, social issues, etc. within the novel.
   2. Suggest new or uncommon books to check out.
   3. Discuss the issues of technology in our society--specifically in terms of its effect on local book shops and libraries.
   4. Discuss why reading is pertinent for everyone.
   5. Any topics that may be seen as relevant or need to be discussed at the time.

I won't lie--my blog is here primarily because I wanted to get an A in my elective class.  But my blog is also here in hopes of finding others that love and appreciate good, old-fashioned books.

Thanks for reading, come back again soon :)