Thursday, 9 February 2017

Teens' Vandalism Charges Receive "Read Diverse Books" Sentence

I know I haven't been posting but I'd like to post that CNN reported some teens vandalized the Ashburn Colored School back in September. Their punishment? Read diverse books.

If you just do a quick Google search you'll see the benefits of reading fiction, and the one that always sticks out to me is that it builds your ability to be empathetic. Empathy is something I think society is lacking.

As for the books they need to read? The article only lists a few, but they have to read and report on one book a month with the possibility of some films too. I wish I could see the whole list. Personally, I've only read To Kill a Mockingbird and I've seen (and recently rewatched) Schindler's List.

I love this punishment and it is something I could definitely employ in the future. Punishment for demonic offspring? Read this book and write a report. Maybe they would be grounded until they do.

As for the teens here? I also like this punishment. However, they should be responsible for the clean up of their damages, both financially and helping with the physical cleaning.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Ocean at the End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

Publish Date: June 18th 2013 
Publisher:  William Morrow Books 
Author: Neil Gaiman 
Website: Author’s Website 

            I wrote this months ago and then I couldn’t find my file. Don’t judge me.

            A grown man has returned to his childhood village and he visits the nearby farm he used to frequent. As he sits on a familiar bench in front of a pond, he remembers that the girl who lived there, Lettie, told him that it was an ocean. The memories that slipped away from the adult trickle back and he recalls the Hempstock farm, the cruelty of his family, and how an ocean can be anywhere, if you ask it nicely. 

Story and Fantasy Elements
            I had read this book last year, though I read it quickly and it honestly didn’t strike me as too special. I re-read it this year, much more slowly, and I took in more detail. I noticed more of the fantastical elements. This book has layers and layers to it, so I suggest that you don’t try to zoom through it too quickly just because you like to read a book a night or you really want to be a speed reader (or something).
            I really like the fantasy elements here. There’s no wand pointing and simple magic words. What happens with the Hempstocks is older and beyond human explanation, and they are also bound by laws and basically, the way it is done. What I mean is that they can’t bend the rules and do everything so it is convenient to the plot. 
            Something that I would love to research (but I lack the time between adventuring), is the Hempstock women and if they correlate to the mythos of the triple goddess, of the three stages of a woman’s life. What I am referring to is the tripartite concept of the maiden, the mother, and the crone. I would love to write an essay exploring if all of the Hempstock women on that farm are really the same entity in different points of time. If I were still in school I would definitely try to persuade a professor to let me do it!
            One more interesting aspect of this book was all the imagery of water. I think a neat essay could explore the water in terms of religion, along with whatever else might come up in the book that I missed. 

            The main character…doesn’t do much that affects the plot. He mostly reacts. For some people that’s infuriating. He is just a child, and a believable child mostly, but he’s mostly an observer. In The Golden Compass, Lyra has agency and does things, but the main protagonist of this book does not. 
            I loved the Hempstocks, and I immensely enjoyed Lettie’s plucky attitude. She would be an interesting character to include in an essay about that one character a lot of books have that just know how to get things done (like Hermione).   

Child Abuse Interpretation
            I read this just as a fantasy novel about a boy who got caught up in some affairs that he, as a regular human boy, was not supposed to be part of. Some ladies in my book club said, matter-of-factly, that it was a story of abuse. None of the fantasy and wonderment ever happened. Rather, it was just a coping measure for the protagonist to deal with the abuse of his parents. This is similar to the theory that Harry never went to Hogwarts and all the books are a fantasy to deal with the abuse. 
            Personally, I don’t subscribe to the abuse interpretations for either. However, it would make for some interesting essays, though I am sure it’s already been done before (I haven’t checked, but I assume). I’m sure your teacher or professor would be impressed if you brought it up in an essay though, just to show that you have read up on the book and other interpretations that they might not have taught.

            Although this doesn’t take away from my overall rating (5 stars on Goodreads), seriously, I am so tired of reading everyone’s full names in books over and over. Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Ursula Monkton, Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Ursula Monkton, Ursula Monkton, Lettie Hempstock, Ursula Monkton, Harry Potter, Lettie Hempstock…stop it. There is only one Lettie, only one Ursula, one Harry. Usually, no one thinks in terms of full names in their heads. You don’t look at your kid and think, Lexi Alsop looks bored, maybe we should go to the park. Or, Wow, Lexi Alsop takes up the entire bed. Stop, stop, stop, please, Neil Gaiman. 

Final Verdict
            It is a beautifully written novella. I recommend it to people who like fantasy without the medieval setting and without it being extravagant. This is the only Gaiman work I’ve read, so I don’t know how well it holds up to his other work. If a reader doesn’t like exploring subtexts or thinking too much into what they are reading, I would still recommend it. Just reading it “straight up” was an interesting ride. Not that I think this would happen too often because of Gaiman’s reputation, but it is not a children’s book, despite the young protagonist. Unless you want to explain the muted sex scene to your kid.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Rome and other things

I can't believe that my last post was in November. I have been reading a lot of nonfiction and general fiction so I haven't been adding to my list of books to review.

But where have I been?

I went to Rome.

And I also crossed something off my bucket list: going to Pompeii.

And I got to do something I never thought was actually a thing...

I hiked up Mount Vesuvius! I know it wasn't a partner-in-crime and I got up there first. So we won. Just saying. And I still don't want to post pictures of the most amazing human being alive - but he took the pictures of me and most of the pictures, quite frankly (short people problems).

We also went to the Colosseum.

We also got to stand in line at the Vatican. The line-cutters were annoying (Jesus hates line-cutters, obviously, and of all the places in the world to cut in line...).

There were so many amazing sights.

There are just way too many pictures that I could post. It was amazing.

But that was last September. Lots of other things have happened, but I forgot to transfer all my pictures off my old computer, so I'll post about it later. Or never.

As for blogging, I had lost some steam for reviewing YA lit. I believe it is coming back, though I know I can only focus on so many things before I get burned out. My manuscript is cooling down and I'm painting a lot, trying to get all of my ideas out. I am running with Lexi. Ginger takes a lot of time now that he is old and his health is declining (which was discovered just before I left for Rome). He also keeps me in this city away from my home and my partner (not complaining, he has been my constant companion for 16 and a half years). But I love my job, btw. It is amazing. I get to help people in ways that I didn't think I could.   

And that's it! I'll be (hopefully) posting reviews that I started but never finished. I want to get back into reviewing. I do review on Goodreads, and I've been posting there. But this is my blog and I hate abandoning projects. So...I'm back.

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Publish Date: 1963
Author: Sylvia Plath

Everyone has heard of Sylvia Plath's one and only novel, and it seemed like everyone in high school had read it except me. Everybody I knew was a feminist, idealizing suicide and not belonging, and I just put it on my "To Be Read" list. So if you're like me and the only thing people ever spoke about this book was the suicide aspect (because that's all they were reading it for, honestly), you might not know what else the book is about. It’s Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel, published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in 1963. It was not published in the US until 1971, eight years after her death. In a nutshell, it’s about madness, identity, role models, gender norms, society, and happiness.

Esther Greenwood, clever academically and aspiring writer, has won a trip to New York with some college classmates to intern at a fashion magazine. It is here, on her own in the adult world, that she learns about herself, sex, men and women, and her friends. Once she leaves New York to the next leg of her journey though life, she hits a standstill. By any standards, Esther is different - her actions for her age don't always make sense, and it makes life difficult for her. These difficulties put her on a deliberate path that most people shy away from.

The Beginning
The beginning of the novel is so different from the rest. In New York, Esther is making decisions and learning, and I felt that she was growing up though she was a bit strange and sometimes surprisingly mean. It feels like a coming of age story with a sharper edge an usual. She’s telling the reader her view of the world, and if you're paying attention, she's very cynical about it, but she’s conflicted about how she fits into it. It's when she leaves New York that we get the real turning point. An event sets her off into a spiraling depression, but from her cynicism in her New York experience, you can see that it isn't out of the blue. It’s like she’s walking down a dimly-lit staircase one step at a time – the reader is waiting for her to start going back up towards the light, but she keeps going down.

If thinking about depression, trying to understand depression in others, or if you think people should just buckle up, this book isn't for you. Same goes for suicide. It's not a bad thing, it's just hard to listen to people complain when they should have gotten the hint before reading. (If you hate vampire romance novels, don't read Twilight and complain about it.)
That said, you can easily write intriguing essays using this novel in university or high school. I’ve read that this book is studied in high school, so unless you come from a school with blinders on, I’d say it would be alright. Possible essay topics include:
  • Oppressive gender roles;
  • Models of women that are available for Esther to model herself as;
  • Psychiatry of the 1950s (madness vs depression…can someone write a comparison to the works of Emilie Autumn and The Bell Jar? Please?);
  • The role of the media;
  • The stigma of mental illness; and 
  • The imagery and metaphor of the bell jar.
Esther is difficult for some readers because she lies to herself and others, so who she is doesn’t resonate for a long time (and she is trying to figure it out as well). However, that was the fun of Esther. When she did irrational things I was confused. Is she just so “feminist” I don't get it? Is she just "crazy" and she cannot be comprehended? I kept trying to make sense of her but I couldn't, even at the end, and I like that about her.
There is one character that surprised me from one chapter to the next. I am on the fence about the believability of this character, but hopefully it will continue to make readers think. Mental health issues are heavily stigmatized and yet they can also be romanticized. It’s such a terrible thought that someone could be faking the need for help, but the way that she acts and describes her situation left me believing that she was romanticizing her “craziness” rather than genuinely experiencing distress.
The book generally has a disparaging cast of men, and the women are diverse. Her mother, her sexually liberated friend, her “goody-goody” friend, the baby-factory neighbour, her doctors, her benefactor, her boss…there are many characters. As Esther is trying to write her own identity, she looks towards a whole host of people to compare herself to.

Final Verdict
I definitely recommend this for a library collection (it's currently in our hospital’s small fiction collection). It would be a hard sell for a teen book club, though if everyone wanted to read it because they had heard that they should, go for it (unless you fear overprotective parents). Overall, I'm glad I read this at this point in my life and not when I was 16. (Sorry, 16-year-old me.) Not that I wouldn't have understood it, but everyone was reading it for the insanity, the suicide, the implications of sex, and a loose idea of feminism, and I think I would have been swept away by the hype.
I don’t think this line would have struck me so deeply:
“I wonder who will marry you now, Esther.”