Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book of the Month--March

How often do we get to read a novel that is almost painfully earnest in its portrayal of teenage romance?  How often do we get to read romantic fiction that isn't fantastical, corny or explicit?  How often do we get to read a love story?  Not often enough.  So, when an authentic, honest story of true love comes along, we should jump at the opportunity.  Having heard great things about it from many of my friends, that was my thought when I checked out Rainbow Rowell's (yes, last month's BOTM author too--she's kind of ridiculously talented) Eleanor & Park.
I'm not quite sure how to go about explaining the plot of E & P.  It's the sort of book that seems so beautiful and fragile--like a baby bird in your hand--that you're almost worried about recommending it to friends.  What if they hurt it?  But I trust you, dear readers, and I have to tell you all I can about such a remarkable book.  This book, set in 1986, is written as a dual narrative.  It switches between the perspective of Eleanor, a guarded, strange looking and acting high schooler with a seriously dysfunctional family situation, and Park, a quiet rock enthusiast and with the quintessential perfect family.  Although they differ in some serious ways, Eleanor and Park are similar, too--they both know what it's like to look different and feel different.  In many ways, they both feel like misfits.  But somehow they manage to find each other.  And, in a way (I know it sounds off-the-charts cliched, but it's not) they save each other.
Rainbow Rowell has a writing style that just won't quit.  Again, (see my post about her newer book, Fangirl) she seems to sidestep cliches in a way that's pretty impressive.  E & P is one part cynical--as in a conscious yes-this-is-a-romance admit that keeps the book grounded--and one part big, bold, beautiful lines that seem to perfectly capture everything I hope love is.  Every snapshot sentence is a work of art--at once frank, precarious, funny, image-laden, loving and achingly truthful.
Also, I couldn't put E & P down.  I think I finished it (and it's a pretty sizable book) in a day and a half.  And it's not a thriller--anything but--I just needed to know how it turned out.  And, the ending.  Oh god, the ending.  Normally I read books twice--first for plot, then for the more nuanced elements, but I couldn't read this book again.  After finishing it I almost felt broken, but, at the same time, I felt healed, calm, and content--I felt put back together.  Read, please read.  I promise you will come out of the story a little sad, a little scared, and probably teary--but mostly, you'll feel refreshed and released.

"It's because you're kind," she said. "And because you get all my jokes..."

"Okay." He laughed.
"And you look like a protagonist." She was talking as fast as she could think. "You look like the person who wins in the end. You're so pretty, and so good. You have magic eyes," she whispered. "And you make me feel like a cannibal."
"You're crazy."
"I have to go." She leaned over so the receiver was close to the base.
"Eleanor - wait," Park said. She could hear her dad in the kitchen and her heartbeat everywhere.
"Eleanor - wait - I love you.” 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

It's a little late in the month, but I just found out that March is Women's History Month.  Yay!  March 8th, specifically, but if you forgot to mark your calendar this time around it isn't too late to celebrate women everywhere.  I'll be honoring women with the best female empowerment book I've read--Libba Bray's Beauty Queens.
This book begins with a plane crash.  Actually, that's not quite correct--it kicks off with a Word From Your Sponsor, a Corporation with serious world domination plans and a mysterious figurehead.  The word, with its creepy emphasis on happiness and a very specific type of beauty, sets the tone for the book--or rather, it sets the tone for the very oppression that the main characters spend the book shaking off.
The fourteen aspiring Miss Teen Dreams who survive the crash must learn how to survive on the island they've landed on.  As beauty queens--really, as attractive teenage girls--they've never been encouraged to think for themselves, although their specific skill set does come in handy (think stiletto catapults and makeup splat guns). The girls reveal themselves and their struggles as their time on the island stretches, and they discover that the island is not as uninhabited as it seems.  Beauty Queens contains fourteen incredible beauty queens with completely unique personalities, reality TV pirates, very sinister politicians and features an unforgettably different beauty pageant as the culminating scene.
As well as beautiful, lyrical and imagery rich writing, Beauty Queens boasts theme after cleverly woven theme.  Bray encourages us to think about the control that companies have over our life, and the danger of monopolies and corruption.  She shows that, instead of a parade of cliched, familiar characters, women deserve new and different media representation.  This book heralds individuality above all.  Beauty Queens takes a commonly cliched type of woman and shows that everyone has unique sides to them that make them special, and that cookie-cutter people and personalities are an unhealthy and unrealistic goal.   What better way to celebrate women and kickstart spring than a message of liberation?

There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping. 

They were becoming. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spring Reads

Ah, spring.  Sunshine!  Birds, trees, flowers!  More sunshine!  Spring is far and away my favorite season.  I tend to be delusional about it--I'm the person who starts "smelling spring" in late January and I've been on a fiercely reality-denying bud lookout for months.  But this time I'm not making it up--spring is almost here and I couldn't be more thrilled.  Here are a few books that will put us all in a fresh, sunny mood.  Can't you just picture yourself reading these sprawled out on a grassy lawn?   I know I can.
1. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan:  Two of my favorite authors combine to write a great realistic fiction piece about love, champions and coincidences.  The premise: two seventeen year old boys--both named Will Grayson, although their personalities couldn't be more different--meet one night in Chicago and find their very different lives strangely intertwined.  This book has a sizable amount of improbable love, features a bit of the high school experience of a gay teen and culminates in an extremely fabulous musical.  This is a really great book to get you into the fresh spirit of spring.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson reminds that the possibility of new love is always there and that the hope of changing minds can't be lost.
2. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff:  Through the metaphor of Winnie the Pooh characters, Hoff explains Taoism in an easy to understand, quite attractive package.  Although this book is purely philosophical (you may want to avoid it if you're not into that sort of thing), I found it pretty enlightening.  As a longtime lover of Winnie the Pooh and someone who aspires to be much more zen than I really am, The Tao of Pooh was a fun, easy read and made me want to implement some of the Taoist ideals into my life.  Don't confuse this with self help--it's more of a fiction/non fiction mix that's half Taoism history and digest of practices, half Winnie the Pooh snapshots and lovable dialogues.  If you want to learn something new this spring (and maybe become a little wiser), The Tao of Pooh is a great way to start.
3.  The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder:  This book may be sad, but it's hopeful too.  Sixteen year old Cam has cancer, and, having spent seven years searching for a cure, she's pretty reluctant to try the new one--her family is moving to Promise, Maine for one more try.  Weird things are supposed to happen in Promise, and they do--Cam meets the love of her life, receives a strange envelope and becomes less cynical--she starts to believe in miracles, as the title suggests.  The Probability of Miracles is a lot about finding hope even within the inevitable--I'll compare it to finding joy in spring even when you know winter isn't gone for good.
4. The Joys of Love by Madeleine L'Engle: Even though this book is set during summer, the title says it all--it's about new love and new possibilities, which clearly makes it a spring book too.  It centers on Elizabeth, who's working as a theater intern at a beachside town and has a dashing love, a great group of friends and is working her dream job.  However, her love is not who he seems and when she stands to lose her job, Elizabeth worries that her perfect summer is ruined.  As a theater kid myself, I loved the genuine details and the beautiful friendships she makes--it perfectly captures the theater experience.  Did I mention that The Joys of Love is set in the 40s?  The plot is perfectly classic and the new love, new life message is very spring-y and exciting.
Get happy, everyone!  Spring is in exactly 4 days, 4 hours (Yes, I'm counting.  Of course I'm counting.) and I can't wait.  Read away!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Finding More Reading Time

It can be really, really difficult to find reading time.  At least it is for me, and I know it is for most of my peers and many adults.  Collectively, we don't read enough.  I end up feeling guilty--if I could only manage my time better, or remember to seize the opportunity to read in a spare moment instead of checking emails or texts.  However, as I slowly move back into a comfortable reading schedule, I realize that a lot of finding more reading time doesn't come from a time issue.   I've realized that if you chose the right book, you don't need to try to find reading time--the reading time comes to you.  Here are some ideas on how to find that book.
1. Try a can't-put-downer.  This might seem like a no-brainer, but there really is no better motivation to read than a book that practically harpoons you to come and unravel it.  I love a book that makes me want to stay up all night because I need to know what happens next.  Mysteries, crime novels, even just really engaging romance--these are all fair game.  And why exactly are we so ashamed of read em' once and throw em' away paperbacks?  Jason Bourne novels shouldn't comprise your entire reading list, but not every book we read has to be a classic.  Just saying.
The books:  And Then There Were None, The Westing Game, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, any and all novels seen advertised on the subway.
2. Read a book with segments.  This is really useful--if a book has the plot construction that allows for separate, non-correlating sections, it provides a safe immersion of reading.  This kind of book gives you a satisfying amount of text to chew through, but if you value your sleep or have a tightly packed schedule, a good sized section can be done in one sitting--on your commute, perhaps, or at breakfast.  There's no pressure--if you're looking to get back into the reading scene, this is a good way to start.
The books: Nine Stories, My Ears Are Bent.
3. Read an old favorite author's new release.  This one is a nice compromise.  Sometimes it can be great to read something new--it's motivating, and there's none of that stagnate disinterest that comes when you read the same old thing all the time.  But it's also a little scary.  An author that you've previously enjoyed comes out with a new release--here's a way to get your new and different fix without plunging all the way in.  Series continuations or spinoffs work well here.
The books:  The Impossible Knife of Memory (so excited for this one!), The Circle, Dreams of Gods & Monsters.  
If you're not afraid to be fully saturated in new-ness, you can try a totally new genre to shake things up.  You may have said you're not a science fiction reader, but (like me) the right book could totally change your mind (the ridiculously amazing Ender's Game was that book for me).  Go ahead and try the opposite of what you usually like--it's an easy and super fun way to get you jumpstarted into reading again.  Make sure that what you chose is a highlight of its genre--one bad book is a terrible reason for you to swear off an entire genre.
Some ideas: historical fiction for the science fiction reader, romance for the crime novel reader, non fiction for the fantasy reader.  If you usually read stuffy serious adult books, try a fun, simple read.
5.  Look for the story.  Find a book that gets you excited about reading again.  Not every good book  lends itself to analysis--some greats were just made to be a wild, enjoyable romp.
The books:  The Twenty-One Balloons, Zipped.
Reading can sometimes seem like a big ball of stress and pressure.  But it doesn't have to be like that at all.  We got into this for the fun--a good time, and a little bit of thought provocation, should be the ultimate end game of a successful reading experience.